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Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 12:57pm

Georgia's High School Graduation Rate Is Finally Above 71 Percent

For the first time in three years, Georgia’s high school graduation rate is above 71 percent.

The graduation rate in Georgia’s public high schools is up nearly two percent this year, according to figures released Wednesday. For the first time in three years, the state saw more than 71 percent of high school students get a diploma.

This is the third year Georgia has used the adjusted Cohort Graduation rate, a more rigorous measure that allows the state to compare itself to the rest of the country.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, says Georgia’s high school graduation rate is improving.

“2011 we saw 67.5 percent in that first year under the new method. Last year at 69.7 and this year at 71.5. So seeing a couple point increase each year, which is very encouraging,” he said.

Governor Nathan Deal is happy with the improvement, but says, ideally, he would like to see every student graduate and get a high school diploma.

“Certainly any improvement is good news and I’m glad to hear that. But it doesn’t mean that we can stop. We have to continue to find innovative ways to make sure that we continue to improve the graduation rates in our state,” said Deal.

The news is being welcomed by other education advocates, including Steve Dolinger, the president of Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

“Georgia has instituted many programs throughout the Pre-K-12 education pipeline,” said Dolinger.

One example he gave was College and Career Pathways, a program designed to help Georgia students plan the careers they want to pursue in college.

“We have put in place the essential building blocks found in other high performing states: higher standards, rigorous curricula, a clear accountability system, a statewide information system and a focus on developing great teachers and leaders.”

Looking at subgroups, the graduation rate for African-American and Hispanic students rose a little higher than two percent compared to last year.

The graduation rate for African-American students was 64.3 percent this year, rising from 61.8 percent in 2012. And the growth rate was even higher among Hispanic students. Last year the graduation rate for Hispanics was 59.8 percent, while this year it rose to 62.4 percent.

Angela Hurtado is vice president of Hispanic Organization Promoting Education, or H.O.P.E. She calls this significant growth, but admits there’s still a long way to go.

She credits targeted efforts to improve the Hispanic graduation rate among Georgia’s high school students.

“You know they’re getting more support than before. For example, within our HOPE chapters, the students that we work with, we’re focusing on kind of helping them know what they need to do to graduate. And also giving them tutoring and resources to be able to do that.”

Hurtado says there are several things holding Hispanic students back. She says one of those obstacles is often a lack of parental support.

“Not because the parents don’t want to give it to them. But because they are working too much or because they are not familiar with the way the school system works in the United States,” she said.

She also says there’s often a lack of motivation. Some students still face a language barrier, although Hurtado says the number of students struggling with English is dropping.

Immigration also plays a role. She points out that undocumented immigrants don’t feel there is a good reason to study in high school, since they are barred from enrolling in Georgia’s top five colleges and universities, and have to pay extra to attend other state colleges. Hurtado says immigration reform could help change that.


Jeanne Bonner

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