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Grad rates soaring
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The Effingham County School System’s graduation rates are continuing to climb, according to statistics provided to Board of Education members last week — and the numbers for African-American students are the best ever.

“Our graduation rates look very good this year,” said Noralee Deason, information systems coordinator for the schools.

The system had a graduation rate of 87.1 percent for 2014-15, nearly 9 points ahead of the statewide rate of 78.8 percent. Effingham County High School’s graduation rate was 85.5 percent, and South Effingham’s was 89.9 percent.

“I am super happy with the graduation rates,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “South is knocking on the door at 90 percent. It’s just really good news.”

The system rate may go up slightly, since the system has appealed the status of six students.

“We believe there was a mistake in our calculating our graduation rates,” Deason said.

The subgroup of white students had a graduation rate of 85.9 percent at Effingham County High School and 89.2 percent at South Effingham High School. System officials were heartened especially by the numbers on the black students subgroup. Black students had a graduation rate of 86.7 percent at ECHS and of 93.3 percent at South Effingham High School. Overall, graduation rates for black students, only 44.3 percent 10 years ago, are now at 86.2 percent for the system.

“We were very pleased to see that performance,” Deason said.

Deason said the system is “struggling a little bit” with the students with disabilities graduation rate but the system’s rate is on average with the state’s. She also said the system expects to see an increase in that subgroup’s graduation rate.

The economically disadvantaged subgroup locally also is outperforming the state’s rates.

The system’s graduation rates and the numbers at ECHS have made great strides in the last decade. ECHS graduation rate in 2005-06 was 65 percent, and the system’s graduation rate was below 69.4 percent. The graduation rates for ECHS and the system began to surpass the statewide mark around 2011.

“We were doing far better than the state in recent years,” Deason said.

In calculating the graduation rate, the state looks at the number of students who entered high school four years before and graduated with a regular diploma. That number is compared to the number of students who drop out, are expelled, leave but continue to get a GED, take five years to complete high school, graduate with a special education diploma or receive a certificate of completion. Also included are students who transfer in but leave before their class graduates.

“It is not just dropouts that count against us,” Deason said. “There are a lot of factors in the graduation rate.”

For the 2015 class, ECHS had 26 true dropouts, 12 left school to earn their GED, two are in their fifth year of high school, one was expelled and 19 earned special education diplomas. At SEHS, there were 18 dropouts, seven attained their GED, six are in their fifth year, one was expelled and there were six who received special education diplomas.

The state’s adoption of House Bill 91, which removed the Georgia High School Graduation Test as a requisite for graduating, has boosted the graduation rate. Effingham County has awarded 197 diplomas to students who previously did not qualify because of the GHSGT.

The numerator is the number of cohort members, who enter four years priors and graduate with a regular diploma. The denominator is those students plus those who are dropouts, were expelled, graduate with a special education, get a certificate

It is not just dropouts that count against us. There are a lot of factors in the graduation rate.

“A lot of kids didn’t get their diploma because they didn’t pass the science or social studies tests, even though they went all four years and passed all their classes,” Shearouse said. “It’s nice they are getting those diplomas now.”

Shearouse’s doctoral dissertation was on how to get kids who didn’t pass the science or social studies portion of the test to pass those exams. While those graduation tests are no longer issued, students still must take end-of-course tests.

“It’s more realistic now with the end of course tests,” he said.

Shearouse also said the success in the graduation rates shows the work high school teachers have done — and the work done by teachers before students entered high school.

“It really does start with early childhood education, and the high school teachers get to see the reward of them walking across the stage,” he said. “But it really starts way back. It’s a team effort in graduation rates. It’s the ultimate goal. That’s what we’re here for, to get kids graduated from high school. We do well as a district and you need to take a little bit of time to celebrate those accomplishments. This is really good news.”