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CHS graduation rate is among highest in region

Cairo High School administrators said Tuesday that the high school graduation rate here is the fourth highest in the southwest Georgia region and is nearly six percent higher than the state average.
The Cairo High School graduation rate for 2011 was 73.1 percent compared to the state average of 67.4 percent. In the southwest Georgia region only Miller County (84.4 percent); Terrell County (76.6 percent); and Pelham (75.4 percent) recorded higher graduation rates.
The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) this week released the 2011 graduation rate using the new cohort rate. Historically, states have calculated graduation rates using varying methods, which created inconsistent data when comparing rates from one state to the next.
According to the DOE, momentum for all states to produce a comparable four-year graduation rate began in 2005 with the leadership of the National Governors’ Association. Governors of all 50 states made a commitment to a common method for calculating each state’s high school graduation rate by signing the Graduation Counts Compact.
“The new formula provides a more accurate, uniform look at how many students we are graduating from high school,” said State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge.
“I believe that in order to tackle a problem you have to have honest and accurate data. We’ve known for some time and communicated that this new formula would show a lower graduation rate than the rate under the previous formula. However, regardless of calculation formula, the state has significantly raised graduation rates over the last several years, but there is still much work to do,” the state school chief said.
Under the new cohort formula, the state graduation rate is 67.4 percent. Using the old leaver rate formula the rate is estimated at 80.9 percent. Based on  DOE projections, the rate using the new cohort rate in 2009 would have been 58.6 percent and in 2010 it would  have increased to 64 percent.
Although the graduation rates under the new formula are lower, Cairo High School Principal David McCurry said he is pleased that the local rate maintained a level higher than the state average. The CHS principal acknowledges the new formula provides a more accurate “picture of what is going on,” and he said it allows for “apples to apples” comparisons with rates from other states.
“I am proud of what we are doing at Cairo High School. It is not just one thing we are doing. It is a combination of things from the teachers in the classroom to the efforts of the guidance office and our graduation coach to the efforts of the teachers in our online classroom. We are all working hard to make sure our students stay on track and are coming to school. It is truly a group effort,” Principal McCurry said.
The CHS principal said that even though the local graduation rate is the fourth highest in the southwest Georgia region and nearly six points higher than the state average, his goal remains to achieve 100 percent.
“We all want every student to graduate so, while I am glad we have a higher rate than the state and most of the neighboring schools, I still want us to make improvements and try and reach a 100 percent graduation rate,” McCurry said.
Cairo High School Graduation Coach Michael Best, whose job is to improve the local graduation rate, said he is pleased with the increased number of high school graduates locally.
“The new cohort formula is a more accurate measure of a school’s graduation rate. It is very important that we account for every student who started as a ninth grader in 2008-2009 because those unaccounted for counted as a dropout,” Best said.
Best also noted that the local rate is much higher than many neighboring schools and is significantly higher than the state average.
According to Best, under the old leaver rate the number of graduates with a regular diploma was divided by the number of dropouts plus graduates and anyone who graduated, no matter how many years it took for the student to graduate.
With the cohort rate, Best said the total number of students who graduated with a regular ed diploma in 2011 who were first time ninth graders in 2008-2009 is divided by the number of students who enrolled as first time ninth graders in 2008-2009 plus every student who transferred into the local system who was a first time ninth grader less every first time ninth grader who transferred out.
“We have to document every transfer out of our system to show proof they enrolled in another high school somewhere else. The state can track those students using their GTID number for in-state transfers and we had to provide proof of enrollment in schools out-of-state,” Best said.
“We know that not all students are the same and not all will graduate from high school in four years, so we asked for the U.S. Department of Education’s permission to use a five-year cohort graduation rate for federal accountability purposes. Ultimately, our goal is to ensure each child will graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and a career, regardless of how long it takes,” Dr. Barge, the state superintendent, said.
Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis echoed comments made by local and state officials.
“Systemwide and particularly at the high school, we have been focused on improving graduation rates. We’ve been working with parents and children to improve the rate and I hope these numbers show we are doing something right. I’m not satisfied with anything less than 100 percent and we have much work to do, but I am proud to know we have one of the best graduation rates in the region and are more than five points higher than the state average,” Dr. Pharis said.
The Grady County school superintendent also noted, “Teachers and administrators are working hard to improve the rate, but we can’t do it alone. It takes support from the community and parents as well as children taking the responsibility to hang in there and complete their high school education. These are good numbers we can build on.”

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