Marisela Lozada (center) and her classmates turn their tassels on their graduation cap during the commencement ceremony for Maynard Jackson High School at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on May 22, 2018. ALYSSA POINTER/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Atlanta high school graduation rate increases, approaches state average

Atlanta Public Schools bumped its graduation rate to 79.9 percent and drew closer to the statewide average, according to data released Wednesday. 

The graduation rate for Atlanta’s class of 2018 is 2.9 percentage points higher than the 2017 rate of 77 percent. APS still falls behind the Georgia average of 81.6 percent, but it has narrowed that gap. 

Statewide, the average rate nudged up by 1 percentage point from 2017. 

Atlanta superintendent Meria Carstarphen credited a number of efforts for the improvement. They include: Offering programs that provide social and emotional support to students, providing alternative ways to make up credits, and tracking data that alerts school officials so they can intervene when a student has missed too many days or is failing too many classes. 

“We have to create an environment that makes them feel safe, welcomed, respected and engaged in school,” she said. “It’s really about improving the quality of what we are offering so kids want to come to school.” 

The statewide graduation rate has steadily increased since 2012, when Georgia began calculating graduation rates using a federal measure that counts students who graduate within four years of beginning high school and requires districts to track students who leave their school system. 

Some of the increase in Georgia’s graduation rate in recent years has been attributed to districts becoming more familiar with that calculation and doing a better job of accounting for students who have transferred out of their schools. 

In Atlanta, the 2012 graduation rate was 50.8 percent. The district’s single biggest gain in recent years happened between 2014 and 2015, when the graduation rate went from 59 percent to 71.5 percent. 

This year, nine Atlanta high schools saw their rates fall while eight schools increased their percentage of students who graduated. 

The highest-performing Atlanta high school in 2018 was Drew Charter School, with a 98.7 percent graduation rate. The lowest-performing in the district, not including two alternative high schools, was the S.T.E.A.M. Academy at Carver High School, which graduated 65.7 percent of students. 

Carstarphen touted gains made by key groups of students, though a racial gap still persists. In 2018, the graduation rate for black students was 78.2 percent, up 3.7 percentage points from last year. Meanwhile, the graduation rate for white students fell by half a percentage point, but still reached 95.4 percent. 

APS graduated 77.5 percent of economically disadvantaged students and 60.5 percent of its students with disabilities. 

Carstarphen said the district recently reviewed graduation requirements to make sure that an appropriate amount of academic rigor goes into earning a diploma. 

That “tightening” is “about raising the standard” in preparation for this school year, she said. 

She said the review included making sure the district has clear standards and monitoring in areas ranging from attendance to transcripts, credit recovery, online learning and requests to change grades.

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