Atlanta’s high school graduation rate increases to 77 percent

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Atlanta’s high school graduation rate increases to 77 percent

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Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Akili-Casundria Ramsess/AJC
Atlanta Public School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen offers a hug to a student as she receives her diploma at the commencement ceremony for the Coretta Scott King Young Women's Academy High School and The Business Engineering Science and Technology (BEST) Academy at Benjamin S. Carson in 2015. (Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Special to the AJC)

Atlanta Public Schools bumped its graduation rate to 77 percent for the class of 2017, an increase of nearly 6 percentage points over last year.

The graduation rate increased in all but four of the district’s schools, APS reported Wednesday.

The Atlanta high school that made the biggest gains was Carver School of Technology, which saw its graduation rate increase by 16.7 percentage points this year to 79.7 percent. 

The increase at Carver Tech validates a consolidation decision in 2015 that put one principal in charge of both Carver Tech and Carver Early College, said Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, in a Wednesday interview. Combining those schools has proven successful, despite the controversy the move generated, she said.

She said that decision was rooted in district officials’ desire to bring equity.

“We did the unthinkable... we [took] the lowest performing school in district and merged it with highest performing district,” she said. “Those who need it the most should get the very best.”

School board chairman Courtney English said the improvement at Carter Tech shows that recent reforms are turning around the district.

“We caught a lot of flak for making that decision. Folks said it wouldn’t work. Folks said both of the schools would kind of cancel each other out and the achievement would drop,” he said. 

A total of 2,356 Atlanta high school students graduated this year.

Despite the improvement, APS still lags behind the statewide rate of 80.6 percent, according to data released Wednesday by the Georgia Department of Education. 

The statewide rate reflects an increase over last year’s rate of 79.4 percent.

APS’ graduation rate increased by double digits in 2015, after the state no longer required high school students to pass state tests in each content area to receive a diploma. The district’s 2015 graduation rate was 71.5 percent, a significant hike from the 59 percent rate for the class of 2014.

Carstarphen praised the results, which she credited to principal leadership, flexibility provided through the district’s charter-system model, and the use of data to pinpoint students who need help or interventions to graduate.

“People were questioning whether we could sustain or improve those gains, and I’m just so thrilled for the graduates to know that we’ve been able to change their lives,” she said.

APS reported that graduation rates went up in 13 of its 17 schools. 

Charles R. Drew Charter School posted a 100 percent graduation rate for its first high school class, followed by a 98.8 percent graduation rate at Carver Early College, a 94.9 percent rate at North Atlanta High School, and a 94.3 percent rate at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

Therrell High School had a double-digit graduation rate increase of 12.8 percentage points, bringing its 2017 graduation rate to 79.6 percent.

The school that lost the most ground was Best Academy, where the rate slipped by 6.1 percent to 72.7 percent.  Carstarphen noted the small student enrollment at the school, which means a change of just a few students can create a bigger percentage point change.  Other schools that fell slightly include Kipp Atlanta Collegiate, where the graduation rate is still high at 91.4 percent, and Jackson and Washington high schools.

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