ATLANTA --- If you ask anyone in the governor's office or the Georgia Department of Education about high school graduation rates, you'll hear that the state's children surpass their peers across the country.
But, if you ask experts from anywhere else, you'll be told Georgia is below the national average.
Depending on who crunches the numbers, the state's high-school graduation rate is somewhere between 64 percent and 80 percent. In two years, everyone will use the same formula for calculating the rates, and Georgians should prepare for a statistical disappointment.
By that universal formula, the state average was 64 percent in 2007 compared with 72 percent for the average of the 16 nearby states and 74 percent nationally. The Peach State is behind the national average in every demographic group.
Georgia officials say they're not trying to fool anyone with their method but argue they have the best way to reflect the mobility of students in such a growing state. They simply compute the percentage of seniors who graduate.
On the other hand, the approach that will be used by every state in 2011 figures the percentage of freshmen who graduate four years later. One reason Georgia's method might be so much higher is that more students in ninth, tenth and eleventh grades are behind schedule for graduating on time than in other states. Just 67 percent of Georgia high schoolers in all grades are on track to graduate on schedule.
Being behind means more reach the legal dropout age before they even enroll in the twelfth grade, leaving only the students most likely to complete their education.
Sen. Lester Jackson and Rep. Mickey Stephens, both Savannah Democrats, are sponsoring legislation that would raise the legal dropout age from 16 to 17 in an effort to boost the graduation rate.
"Sixteen-year-olds are simply not mature enough to make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives," Mr. Jackson said.