High school graduation rates again rise in Georgia

Georgia is again hitting a new peak in public high school graduation rates.

The state Department of Education said Tuesday that 83.8% of seniors graduated on time in the spring. That’s the highest level recorded since Georgia began calculating according to current methods, which require a student to graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma, and rose from 82% in 2019.

It continues a trend of increasing graduation rates in the state since 2012, when about 70% of Georgia seniors were graduating on time.

The national graduation rate was 85% in 2018, the last year for which it is available.

The state says that part of the increase came from a waiver allowing the state to count students with significant cognitive disabilities, about 1% of students overall, as graduating on time even if they take more than four years to complete high school. Students can stay enrolled until their 22nd birthday.

“This change ensures schools are not penalized for continuing to educate students with the most significant cognitive disabilities within that window, knowing they may need additional time to master skills before graduating,” the department said in a statement.

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Because of the pandemic, many high school students did not have to take end-of-course exams last year, which would have counted for 20% of their overall grade. Most students take the courses that require the exams before their senior year, so it’s unclear whether the lack of tests influenced Georgia’s graduation rates.

Waiving those exams “may have helped some individual students who otherwise may not have graduated but given all the other factors ... it’s unlikely it had any significant impact on graduation rates,” department spokesperson Meghan Frick wrote in an email.

Statewide, 93% of Asian and Pacific Islander students graduated on time, as did 87% of white students, 86% of multiracial students, 81% of Black students and 78% of Hispanic students. Among students with disabilities, 70% graduated on time, as did 80% of economically disadvantaged students and 62% of students learning English.

The state says 105 school districts, more than half, recorded graduation rates above 90%, while 29 districts had graduation rates above 95%.

The Calhoun city school system and three charter schools — the Statesboro STEAM Academy, the Academy for Classical Education in Macon and the Baconton Community Charter School — saw all students graduate on time.

Among school districts, Quitman County had the lowest graduation rate at 73%. Online charter schools and charter schools aimed at high school dropouts had lower graduation rates, as did the school system serving the state Department of Juvenile Justice.