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Georgia: Graduation Rates in Region Rising

July 30, 2008

By Chloe Morrison, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

Jul. 30–Although some school systems in the region did not make “adequate yearly progress” this year, a state report shows that graduation rates in Northwest Georgia are on the rise.

The Georgia Department of Education announced adequate yearly progress (AYP) results last week, revealing which schools in the area met federal No Child Left Behind standards. For high schools, graduation rates are one of the measures of success under the 2002 law.

The Catoosa, Dade, Walker and Whitfield school systems did not achieve (AYP), but Dalton and Chickamauga city schools did, reports show.

Despite some shortfalls, Superintendent of Dade County Schools Patty Priest said her system’s graduation rate was the bright spot in this year’s results.

“We worked at trying to keep kids in school, and finding out why they do leave,” she said Tuesday.

Walker County also has steadily improved its graduation rate, which is lower than most of the region. The system’s graduation rate was 57.2 percent for the class of 2008, up from 55.4 percent last year, according to the state’s AYP report.

Walker County Superintendent Melissa Mathis said after summer graduations and re-tests — which are allowed to be counted toward AYP results for the first time this year — she hopes for a 5 percent improvement over last year’s graduation rate.

In 2006, an initiative led by Gov. Sonny Perdue aimed to improve Georgia’s graduation rate by putting graduation coaches into high schools. Graduation advisers have state-mandated duties and give students in need more personal attention, officials said.

Mrs. Priest said the coaches have made a positive impact in her school system.

“Because we are so small, he knows the families,” she said of Dade High School’s graduation coach. “He probably taught mama and daddy. He can call them and say, ‘We’ve got to get little Johnny back in school.’”

Whitfield County schools spokesman Eric Beavers said officials are proud of their improved graduation rate, which has risen from 49.5 percent in 2003-04 to 73.6 percent this year.

But some officials said they expect it to be tougher next year to achieve AYP and continue to raise graduation rates, because Georgia is continuing to implement new curriculum standards.

The new standards — which school officials began preparing for in 2005 — are being phased in, and this year was the first time middle school students were tested on the new curriculum’s standards in subjects like math.

Mrs. Priest, a former math teacher, said because of the new standards in math this year, the scores are not comparable to last year’s, because students were taking different tests.

“If you look at the rigor of the eighth-grade math in Georgia, the rigor of that curriculum is unbelievable,” she said.

Dalton and Chickamauga city school officials said they believe periodic testing throughout the school year helped their schools achieve AYP.

“We do our own tests along the way to make sure we are on track with the curriculum and that the students are where they should be,” said Melody Day, superintendent of Chickamauga City Schools.

Cassy Clendenen, who will be a sophomore at Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga, said she appreciates the help educators give her.

“They really put their whole life around it,” she said of her teachers’ dedication. “If you are struggling, after school you can always get help.”

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