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Graduation rates on the rise across county
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Effingham County improved its high school graduation rate for the second straight year, while also topping the state average by nearly 11 percentage points.

The county’s 2014 cohort graduation rate was 83.3 percent, an improvement from 79.7 last year and 79.3 two years ago. The state average for 2014 was 72.5.

“Fortunately, we’re well above the state’s number,” said Effingham County Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “Do we want that rate to be 90 percent? No doubt about it, and higher. But I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

Shearouse said Effingham County High School had a “great jump” in its graduation rate, from 76.7 last year to 81 this year. South Effingham High’s rate rose from 85 to 87.3.

“A lot of things go into making this happen,” Shearouse said. “You’ve got to give credit, of course, to teachers first.”

Another factor, according to Shearouse, is the success of the school system’s CTAE (career, technical and agricultural education) pathways, which give students hands-on experience in the profession they want to pursue. Shearouse also pointed to the effectiveness of programs such as credit recovery and freshman academy.

Credit recovery enables students to stay on track to graduate after they have failed a course. Students can take computerized classes to make up the course credit rather than having to re-take the entire class.

Every ninth-grader in the school system is part of freshman academy. Freshmen take their classes in a designated wing of the school and are assigned a team of teachers who focus only on ninth-graders, an approach similar to what the students had in middle school.

“It helps in the transition from middle school to high school. It’s a more supportive experience for the students,” said Judith Shuman, the school district’s student and professional learning coordinator.

Shearouse added that freshman academy is “making sure those kids are getting through ninth grade. That is the year most kids drop out.”

This is the fourth year Georgia has calculated graduation rates using the adjusted cohort rate formula, as required of all states by the U.S. Department of Education. The adjusted cohort graduation rate is based on when a student first becomes a freshman.

The rate is determined using the number of students who graduate within four years and includes adjustments for student transfers. In contrast, Georgia’s former method was based on when students graduated, which may have included students who took more than four years to finish high school.

One factor that lowers the graduation rate is students who stay in the district for only a short time, according to Noralee Deason, the district’s information systems coordinator.

“They come, they transfer in to us, they’re here for a week and they drop out,” she said. “We get dinged on the graduation rate for those students.”

Effingham County posted a 79.8 percent graduation rate in the first year of the adjusted cohort and slipped slightly to 79.3 in year two, before improving to 79.7 and 83.3, respectively, the past two years. Effingham has scored at least eight percentage points higher than the state average in all four years the method has been in place.

“If we can just get more kids to graduate prepared to work, as our strategic plan calls for, we’ll be doing them a great service and our community a great service,” Shearouse said. “But it’s certainly good news for both of our high schools, and they’re to be commended for their hard work and effort to get this done.”

Graduation rates   2013    2014
Effingham County     76.7     81
South Effingham        85      87.3
Countywide              79.7    83.3
State                        71.5    72.5