Category Archives: Graduation Rates

High requirements for math, science spur drop-out rate, say school officials

Marietta Schools Superintendent Emily Lembeck is asking lawmakers to modify Georgia’s graduation requirements for math and science to decrease the state drop-out rate.

Lembeck said Georgia’s requirements are stricter than many others in the country, noting a student can graduate in California with just Algebra, far from the four years of math required in Georgia.

“Graduation requirements should align with requirements for admission into post-secondary opportunities and support the development of a skilled workforce,” Lembeck said, adding technical colleges do not usually require four years of rigorous math and science.

“We have students that are going to Chattahoochee Tech for cosmetology — they don’t need pre-calculus,” Lembeck told members of Cobb’s legislative delegation this week.

Lembeck said the requirements should be “flexible enough to assure students are either college, career or college and career ready.”

Cobb schools in 2014 had a 78.2 percent graduation rate, a 1.7 percent jump from 2013. Marietta High School’s rate went up about 5 points to 71.4. The state of Georgia’s graduation rate increased from 71.8 percent to 72.5 percent. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average was 80 percent in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Graduation requirements cannot be waived, except for a “limited number of students in exceptional circumstances who may have waivers approved by the state Board of Education regarding the high school graduation test criteria,” Lembeck said.

This is why she is petitioning the legislators to change the requirements at the state level.

Lembeck said the strict requirements are causing more students to drop out of school, which not only hurts the students but also the economic development of the state.

“Those who do not complete high school have relatively limited options for future success in the workforce,” she said. “Further, when businesses seek to relocate or open, the state that ranks comparatively low in the nation is not attractive.”

Chris Ragsdale, interim superintendent for Cobb County Schools, said he also thinks identifying the different career pathways for high school students is important.

“I concur with Dr. Lembeck that recognizing various career pathways has implications for what we require of high school graduates,” he said. “While there are skill sets and acquired knowledge that all students need to be successful in life, there are also required courses currently in place that in reality benefit some career paths more than others.”

Marietta Board of Education Chairman Randy Weiner agrees with Lembeck on the need to relax the requirements.

“The current state graduation requirements are higher than most states, and that’s one of the main reasons why Georgia has such a high drop-out rate in high school,” Weiner said. “Some kids don’t need four years of math. For (those) going into a trade, it’s keeping kids moving forward in many instances and they drop out.”

Weiner also said Georgia should have a separate diploma for students with disabilities like other states, such as Colorado, New York and Tennessee.

“If special ed students receive a special ed diploma in Georgia, they are counted as a drop out,” he said.

Lembeck said she believes in high expectations, but high expectations do not always align with reality.

“While expectations should remain high for all students and all coursework required, there is the reality that the current requirements are a disincentive and inhibit graduates and the future productivity of a good number of students who could otherwise be made career-ready,” she said.

Yet Randy Scamihorn, vice chairman of the Cobb Board of Education, said he wasn’t completely sure relaxing graduation requirements was a good idea because of Georgia education’s already low standing in the nation.

“We are constantly being criticized unjustly for being at the bottom of the national test scores,” Scamihorn said.

Scamihorn said he didn’t entirely disagree with Lembeck’s comments. He said while he can’t speak directly to whether or not the math requirements should be relaxed, he does agree with Lembeck on flexibility.

“Dr. Lembeck is a well-respected educator, so I don’t disagree with her — but I can say we need to be as flexible as possible so that people can get productive jobs when they get out of high school,” he said.

State Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), chairman of Senate Education Committee, was among those in attendance at Tuesday’s forum when Lembeck made her comments. Tippins said he also thinks the state’s graduation requirements are out of step with the rest of the country.

“I believe that the high math requirements are all — regardless of the field they choose to follow — is one reason we have such a high drop-out rate,” Tippins said.

Tippins said he is in favor of taking a “hard look” at the graduation requirements to see how they can be modified to better prepare students for the post-high school path they plan to pursue.

“I think all education ought to be tailored to a student’s needs in terms of the profession they intend to follow,” he said. “I think we need to train them at what the requirements are for their intended profession instead of having a one-size-fits-all.”

As for the next legislative session, which will start Jan. 12, Tippins said he’s heard legislation will be introduced to address the requirements and the drop-out rate.

“I look forward to seeing it,” he said.

He also said if the legislation is not introduced, he will do so himself.

However, he did caution against thinking there is one quick fix to the issues surrounding education in Georgia.

“If anybody’s looking for a silver bullet to solve the education dilemma in the state, I don’t think you’re going to find a silver bullet,” he said. “They look at the problem areas and try to address them — and I think this is one of the problem areas.”

by Philip Clements


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Filed under Curriculum, Georgia Education, Graduation Rates, High School Graduation

Georgia’s New Prison Education Initiatives

One credit shy of receiving a high school diploma, an inmate at Arrendale State Prison for women will soon be the first Georgia Department of Corrections inmate to graduate while incarcerated as part of a collaboration between the GDC and the Mountain Education Center Charter School.

The graduation was made possible by new laws that allowed for more classroom education and job training for inmates.

Gov. Nathan Deal updated state lawmakers on the program’s progress at a Tuesday luncheon to close out the Carl Vinson Institute of Government’s 29th Biennial Institute for Georgia Legislators at the University of Georgia.

The measures were designed to fight the state’s 30 percent recidivism rate in one of the largest prison systems in the United States, and Deal noted that of the 60,000 inmates across Georgia’s prisons, just 700 were engaged in continuing education opportunities while incarcerated before he appointed former Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Buster Evans as GDC Assistant Commissioner.

The governor attributed the high prison re-entry numbers as a fault of the system, and the lack of education opportunities available to inmates who complete their sentences with no more marketable skills than when they were convicted.

“If you’re no better equipped when you leave prison, we should never expect great results,” he said.

Between July and October 2014, Deal noted, 4,500 inmates were enrolled in the GDC’s various job training and classroom education programs.

“That is a concrete example of what may have appeared, as you dealt with it, as abstract legislative language,” Deal said. “But that abstract language, when implemented, makes a difference in the lives of these individuals.”

Arrendale inmates will begin classes through the Mountain Education Center Charter School in January, and Deal said the program will expand in August with the Foothills Education Charter School, a collaboration between school districts in Clarke, Jackson and Madison counties.

Contact government and enterprise reporter Kelsey Cochran at (706) 208-2233.


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Filed under Graduation Rates, High School Graduation

Deal, Woods both back changes to state graduation requirements

Georgia’s high school graduation requirements — which include four credits of math, four of English and four in science — are among the toughest in the country.

And the state’s four-year graduation rate is mediocre, only around 70 percent.

Now, two prominent Republicans running for statewide office — Gov. Nathan Deal and school superintendent candidate Richard L. Woods — are calling for changes to those requirements.

Deal has said he’d like computer programming to serve as one of the core courses required for graduation, substituting for a math or science course or even taking the place of one of the foreign language classes colleges and universities expect incoming students to have passed. And during a televised debate on Sunday, Woods said he’d like the state to consider substituting a class like journalism or accounting for one of the math requirements.

Woods, who taught and served as a school administrator in Irwin County, later clarified that to mean having the journalism class substitute for an English credit and the accounting course replace a math credit.

Either way, his message and the governor’s are the same: Georgia should consider changing its requirements for graduation.

“I believe this could open some options for many students (potential drop-outs and special needs),” Woods wrote in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It would move us away from the one size fits all mentality and maintain a high degree of standards for our children.”

Neither the superintendent nor the governor would, on their own, be able to change the graduation requirements.

The state Board of Education has the final say. But the board’s members are appointed by the governor, and the superintendent has the authority to present policy proposals to the board.

Any proposed change to graduation requirements would likely be a hot topic in a state where students’ performance often trails that of their peers across the country.

Woods’ Democratic opponent, Valarie Wilson, said she doesn’t like the idea of moving away from requiring four math credits. She cited the fact that Georgia’s students have struggled in math.

Indeed, the mean math score of Georgia students on the SAT — 485 of a possible 800 — was 27 points lower than the national mean math score, according to 2014 figures from the College Board, which administers the SAT.

Overall, Georgia’s mean score of 1445 was 52 points lower than the national mean score of 1497.

Mike Light, spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia, said the system would be open to a discussion about changes to the graduation requirements that includes the General Assembly, the governor, the state Board of Education and education leaders throughout the state.

“What we would not want to see is lowering the standards or expectations for students striving for high school graduation and college or careers,” Light said.

It is not clear that requiring four credits of math, four of English and four of science automatically leads to better-prepared students.

But the requirements do appear to affect Georgia’s comparatively low graduation rate.

Seven of the 16 states whose data and education trends are tracked by the Southern Regional Education Board do not require four credits each of math, English and science for graduation. Georgia’s four-year graduation rate of 70 percent in 2011-2012 was lower than five of those states, and the other two — Kentucky and Oklahoma — had requested a waiver to get more time to compile their graduation data, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said adjusting the requirements wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea.

“It might have some potential if it was an engaging option for students and made them realize the connection between high school courses and their next phase of life,” he said.

By Wayne Washington
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia Graduation Rate Maps

The color-coded maps below show graduation rates in 2007 (top) and 2012 (bottom) with higher graduation rates in blue and lower graduation rates in orange or yellow. Georgia’s graduation rate increased six points during this time period, from 64 percent to 70 percent, but still continues to lag behind all but two states. Source: Education Week



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