Georgia released figures Tuesday for the first time that show how many high school seniors graduate in four years. The data is part of a new federal formula aimed at making graduation rates more accurate and comparable across states.

Under the old formula, Georgia schools had an 81 percent graduation rate in 2010.

But according to the new method, last year state schools graduated 67 percent of students who had entered ninth grade four years before.

State School Superintendent John Barge says that doesn’t mean the graduation rate fell 14 percentage points in one year. Instead, he says the new formula focuses on a narrower group of students.

“If it took a child six years to get a diploma, they counted as a graduate," he said in a phone interview. "Under the new model, if they’re not done in four, they’re going to count negatively against the new graduation rate.”

Jeff Gagne is with the Southern Regional Education Board, a nonprofit education resource group. He says the new approach will allow school officials to focus on specific groups of students.

“For the first time instead of looking at state averages or school averages, you need to begin to think about that if we’re going to raise those averages, we need to raise each group of students’ graduation rates," he said in an interview. "We need to get more Hispanic students out of school on time. We need to get more African-American students on time.”

Governors of all 50 states pledged in 2005 to transition to the new graduation formula.

Some states made the switch earlier than others. North Carolina, for example, has been using the system for several years and reported a 77 percent graduation rate for last year.

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