With Statesboro High School's rise in graduation rate leading the way, Bulloch County Schools' 2015 four-year graduation rates improved significantly, according to data released by the Georgia Department of Education.
Bulloch's Class of 2015's rate of 84.5 percent is 9.4 percentage points higher than 2014 and 5.7 percentage points higher than Georgia's 2015 overall rate of 78.8 percent. For five of the past six years, the district's graduation rate has steadily increased and been higher than the state's.
"We see a trend developing not only in our student performance data but also in our measured behaviors as an organization," said Superintendent Charles Wilson. "This is really important for sustained success."
The U.S. Department of Education requires the calculation of adjusted four-year graduation rates based on when a graduating class first enters ninth grade and the number of students who graduate within four years. It includes adjustments for students who transfer out of a school or district. Data for students who took more than four years to graduate, which is reflected in the Five-Year Cohort Rate, are not yet available.
Bulloch County Schools' four-year rates rose significantly due in part to the state's elimination of the Georgia High School Graduation test as a requirement for graduation. For 2015, recent graduates also had a one-year reprieve from the state's End of Course tests counting 20 percent of their final course grades. This was due to the first administration of the new Georgia Milestones Assessment System for third through 12th grades.
Statesboro High posted the district's biggest increase of 13 percentage points, with its graduation rate jumping from 69.8 percent in 2014 to 82.8 percent in 2015. This is also 4 percentage points higher than the state's rate and 5.3 percentage points higher than the state's 2014–15 College and Career Ready Performance Index Targets for graduation rates.
Southeast Bulloch High continued to have the district's highest graduation rate at 87.5 percent, a 3.1 percentage point increase over 2014. SEB's rate is 8.7 percentage points higher than the state and exceeds the College and Career Ready target by 10 percentage points.
Portal Middle High's graduation rate was the second highest in the district. It rose from 77.3 percent to 84.9 percent. This rate is 6.1 percentage points higher than the state and 7.4 points higher than the College and Career Ready target of 77.5.
Beyond the effect of testing on this year's rates, Wilson pointed to the foundation of improvements put in place during the past four years as the reason for more students completing high school in four years.
"Our teachers are working more cohesively with counselors to intervene early with students and focus on the individual needs they have for additional academic and career support," said Dr. Ken LeCain, who is in his second year as Statesboro High's lead administrator. "Our increase was precipitated by the tremendous efforts of our teachers."
LeCain also pointed to the value of professional learning communities, a major district initiative, and how effective they are for bringing faculty together to analyze student data to drive instruction and remediation efforts.
"Schools are implementing research-based practices in planning and assessment, and our Board of Education provides increasing support to our focused efforts," Wilson said. "We have to remember that high schools can't do this alone. We are focusing on student success as an aligned effort from K-12, and every year we continue in this approach, we increase that potential."
Southeast Bulloch High also uses data analysis to better focus on individual student needs. Principal Donna Clifton attributed SEB's increase in graduation rates to the following: providing study hall during the school day and tutoring after school; analyzing data to track each student; building individual relationships with students; tracking grades and monitoring progress; holding conferences both with students and with students and parents together; and developing plans for success for individual students without a "one size fits all" mentality.
"I am very proud of all of our high schools, as they each have unique challenges," Wilson said. "The staff at each school has done an excellent job of taking the direction set at the state and local levels, along with the tools provided, to create opportunities for our students."