Georgia School Funding Association


What is Georgia's Graduation Rate?

The Georgia Board of Education has adopted a comprehensive list of requirements for graduation from high school in Georgia. These requirements describe the preparation a student must have to begin the next level in education, obtain an entry-level job, or enlist in the military. As such, they represent the basic elements of an adequate education as defined by the State.

A close examination of the available data indicates that nearly half of Georgia’s students are not receiving a regular diploma from high school. (Many of the drop-outs subsequently get a GED, but a GED is not a real substitute for a high-school education.) This is a huge tragedy not only for the students themselves, since their future prospects are seriously diminished, but for all Georgians in terms of the economic prosperity and general well-being of our state.

Given the importance of a diploma from high school, it would seem that there would be accurate data on the number of students who are reaching this milestone. However, much of the official data on graduation rates is incomplete or misleading.

Instead of keeping track of the students who enter Georgia’s high schools and ultimately graduate, the Georgia Department of Education calculates the official graduation rate according to a fraction defined as follows. The numerator is the number of regular graduates in a given year, and the denominator is the sum of the number of graduates, plus certificates of attendance and special-education diplomas, and the known drop-outs in each of the previous four years.

However, many of the students who leave school before graduation are omitted from the calculations. Unless they are officially counted as a “drop-out,” they are simply dropped from the records or treated as a transfer, even if they do not enroll in another school.

A more reliable approach, although it is still only an estimate, is to compare the number of graduates in a given year with the number of students who entered the ninth grade four years earlier. Some say this approach ignores the students who take more than four years to graduate, but the number of graduates in any year includes the students who entered high school more than four years earlier and themselves took more than four years to graduate.

The estimated rate is overstated to the extent that more students are moving into Georgia than are leaving. The new students are counted in the number of graduates but not in the enrollment four years earlier. On the other hand, the estimated rate is understated to the extent that the number of ninth graders includes students who have been retained in the ninth grade.

The calculations for the 2004-05 school year, based on the more accurate approach described above, are displayed in the table below. The alarming conclusion is that the number of graduates in Georgia in 2004-05 was only 52.5% of the number of students at the start of the ninth grade four years earlier. The comparable rates for black and Hispanic students were even lower at 43.9% and 39.8% respectively.

In contrast, the overall graduation rate for 2004-05 published by the Georgia Department of Education is 69.5%, with 61.9% and 55.3% for black and Hispanic students. These rates mask the full extent of the crisis, but even they are cause for deep concern.

Moreover, the graduation rate for Georgia is at or close to last among all of the states whenever the calculations are performed on a consistent basis.

May 9, 2006


Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Students in FY 05    1,470,634
Grade 8 FTE in Fall of FY 01       112,145
Grade 9 FTE in Fall of FY 02       128,734
Grade 10 FTE in FTE of FY 03       102,590
Grade 11 FTE in Fall of FY 04        88,301
Grade 12 FTE in Fall of FY 05        75,814
Graduation Rate in FY 05 per GDOE 69.4%
 No. of Graduates in FY 05         67,547
 "Base" Used by DOE for FY 02         97,359
 Actual Grade 9 FTE in Fall of FY 02        128,734
 "Lost Students"         31,375
 Actual Diploma Rate in FY 05  52.5%
 Difference in Rates  16.9%