Muscogee’s graduation rate continues to outperform nation, state, comparison group

Spotted at the G.W. Carver High graduation ceremonies at the Columbus Civic Center.
Spotted at the G.W. Carver High graduation ceremonies at the Columbus Civic Center.

The Muscogee County School District’s graduation rate continues to outperform the national and state averages as well as Georgia’s other second-tier cities, according to the 2016 results the Georgia Department of Education released Tuesday.

MCSD improved its graduation rate by 1.5 percentage points, from 84.6 percent in 2015 to 86.1 percent in 2016. The state average improved by 0.4 points, from 78.8 to 79.2. It’s the third straight year the district has surpassed the state average. In the past four graduating classes, Muscogee County has increased its graduation rate by 13.3 percentage points, while the state’s rate has increased by 7.4 points.

“Graduation rates are one of the most significant and widely recognized performance indicators for any high school or district,” MCSD superintendent David Lewis said in a news release. “Today’s news that our district’s graduation rate has increased to 86.1 percent and is outpacing the state and the national average is a credit to our students’ commitment to a brighter future as well as a testament to our dedicated teachers, administrators, support staff and families who encourage and help them meet this important educational milestone.”

Lewis added more improvement must be achieved.

“While the trend is certainly positive for our district, plenty of work remains to reach our next goal of 90 percent full-option graduation,” he said. “Together, we must continue to engage in the important teaching and learning process to ensure our ultimate goal, which is 100 percent of our students who graduate on time are prepared for postsecondary education, training or the workforce.”

As required by the U.S. Department of Education, the graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate from high school within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers. This is the sixth year Georgia has used the adjusted cohort for its graduation rate. The state used to define the cohort upon graduation, which could have included students who took more than four years to graduate.

This is the second year the state’s graduating class isn’t required to pass the Georgia High School Graduation Tests since the high-stakes exams were phased out.

Reporting for the nation’s graduation rate is a year behind the state and local data. The nation’s graduation rate of 83 percent is at a record high, although that figure, released last month, is for 2015 graduates; the figures the state released Tuesday are for 2016 graduates.

Here’s how Georgia’s other second-tier cities performed compared to last year: Bibb County (Macon) increased 0.4 percentage points, from 71.2 percent to 71.6 percent; Chatham County (Savannah) increased 1.9 points, from 81.3 to 83.2; Richmond County (Augusta) decreased 0.9 points, from 77.6 to 76.7.

Four of MCSD’s nine high schools improved their graduation rate this past year: Carver, Hardaway, Kendrick and Northside.

For the second straight year, Carver increased its graduation rate by double digits. After dipping 2.7 percentage points, from 61.3 to 58.6, between 2013 and 2014, Carver’s graduation rate has soared — by 17.8 percentage points to 76.4 in 2015 and now by 13.1 percentage points to 89.5 in 2016.

“It takes a team effort to bring out the best in our students, and we treat each of our students like our own children,” Carver principal Chris Lindsey said in the news release. “We track our students in school and out of school, and we refuse to let our students use excuses to give up on improving their lives through education and thinking beyond high school and the immediate community. In addition, G.W. Carver alumni, of all ages, come to the school to engage, to encourage, to support and to show each of our students that you can go anywhere from here.”

Hardaway improved by 1.9 percentage points (from 88.5 to 90.4), Northside by 1.4 points (from 89.8 to 91.2) and Kendrick by 0.4 points (from 78.2 to 78.6).

Last year, graduation rates improved at every MCSD high school. This year, however, the rates decreased at four and remained the same at one.

Jordan decreased by 6.4 percentage points (from 78.0 to 71.6), Early College by 2.9 points (from 100 percent to 97.1), Spencer by 2.8 points (from 78.6 to 75.8) and Shaw by 0.2 points (from 85.4 to 85.2). Columbus High’s rate stayed at 99.6 percent.

The graduation rate at six of MCSD’s nine high schools is above the national and state averages: Carver, Columbus, Early College, Hardaway, Northside and Shaw.

The GaDOE noted in its news release that the state’s 2016 graduation rate is considered preliminary because of incomplete data from a few school districts.

Asked why the department announced the state’s 2016 graduation with incomplete data, GaDOE spokesman Matt Cardoza told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “Because that’s the date we said we would release and we need to keep commitments. If we received a lot of incomplete data from districts we probably would have been forced to delay, but, since there weren’t many schools, we wanted to honor the date we originally told districts.”

Muscogee County is among the eight school districts (out of 181 in the state) and one charter school with incomplete graduation data, according to the spreadsheet the department released. One of Muscogee’s nine high schools, Early College Academy, has data considered incomplete. It is listed as having 34 students in its class of 2016 with 33 graduates for a rate of 97.1 percent. Last year, 100 percent of Early College’s class of 2015 graduated.

The other districts with incomplete graduation data are in the counties of Bryan (one school), Calhoun (one school), Crawford (one school), Decatur (one school), Floyd (four schools), Fulton (one school) and Henry (one school) as well as Georgia Cyber Academy.

Cardoza said the reason Early College’s data is considered incomplete is a “withdrawal code issue.” That involves students who are “coded as withdrawals or transfers but not verified with documentation,” he said. “In that case, they are coded as dropouts.”

Cardoza said he doesn’t know how many such cases there at Early College, “but I don’t think there are many students that have these withdrawal code issues. There are two other districts that have more significant issues that could impact the state rate a little more. We could have the completed data as soon as a week or two.”

MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller said in the news release that Early College’s case is being appealed to the state. “The rate is expected to be 100 percent,” she said.

Harris County

Harris County improved its graduation rate by 2.8 percentage points, from 89.9 to 92.7, this past year. Harris County principal Todd Stanfill said in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer the improved graduation rate “is a direct result of the continued efforts of the faculty to focus on individualized instruction, various support programs and the use of data to identify areas that require additional efforts.”

Jeff Branham, the school district’s chief information officer, said in the email, “We attribute this achievement to our teachers, administrators, central office staff and a highly supportive population in Harris County.

Research demonstrates that making learning environments safe and relevant, better engaging parents and communities in our schools, and helping students with academic needs leads to an increased graduation rate. This continues to be the Harris County School District’s academic focus.”

Harris County superintendent Jimmy Martin said in the email, “We are pleased with our results, but we are not satisfied until every student graduates.”

Those efforts include “dropout recovery programs and prevention strategies to better engage youth in their learning and their future,” Branham said.

Chattahoochee County

Chattahoochee County improved its graduation rate by 1.5 percentage points, from 83.3 to 84.8, this past year. ChattCo principal Sandi Veliz praised “the hard work of our teachers and staff to identify students in need and working closely with them and their parents to ensure that coursework is completed.”

Veliz also credits GraduateFirst, the state’s dropout prevention program. GraduateFirst comprises school-based teams of educators trained to determine the causes for dropouts and to develop strategies for helping at-risk students.

“Our guidance department, along with our system social worker, Military Family Life Consultant and support staff, works closely with students and families to ensure that student needs are being addressed,” Veliz told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email.

Veliz is concerned about the subgroups that scored below the state’s target graduation rate of 80 percent.

“The district is addressing these concerns actively,” she said. “We have completely revamped our Response to Intervention program this school year. The new model allows for at-risk students to be closely monitored while given individualized, specific strategies/interventions to target areas of need. We believe this intervention will target our lowest-performing students and provide them with the support they need to be successful.”

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