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