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FCS dropout rate nearly cut in half, graduation remains high

Fulton County Schools (FCS) Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney made it his mission when he joined the district in 2019 to lower the number of high school dropouts. It is a goal that hits close to home for the Superintendent.  

"I was a high school dropout," said Looney. "It's not that I couldn't do it; life was in the way."  Looney said his experience helped him understand what children are going through when deciding whether to drop out of school. 

"I have yet to meet a student that wants to drop out of high school," Looney said. "What they are saying is 'I don't know how to finish. I'm behind. I don't know how to get to the finish line.'" 

As part of the district's turnaround efforts, a plan was developed to reduce dropouts in the short and long term. That plan proved to be very useful. The district's dropout rate has decreased by nearly 50%.  

"We are proud to share that we have already seen significant progress," said Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones. "In 2018, we had 1,010 students dropout, followed by 1,216 in 2019, and 685 in 2020. This is a 44% decrease in dropouts. While this is exciting and worth celebrating, we do want to exercise caution in the ability to sustain this kind of growth, given the significant challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic."  

FCS attributes the improved dropout rates to student's and staff's hard work and the implementation of a four-part component plan. The plan includes developing a communication process to identify sooner students that may have been significantly absent or moved.  

FCS staff ensures that all students who desire to drop out go through a gated support procedure that includes a meeting with the school Principal and signoff from the Zone Superintendent before the student can drop out. 

"I want every student in Fulton County Schools to succeed," said Looney. "We're not just letting a student go the counselor and say, 'I'm dropping out.' We're going to dig deeper."  

2020 Dropout Rate Data

While the dropout rate decreases, the FCS graduation rate stayed above the state average while decreasing slightly. Data released by the Georgia Department of Education shows the graduation rate for students in Fulton County schools as 85.5 percent, 1.6 percentage points above the state graduation rate of 83.8 percent.

Cambridge High School posted a graduation rate of 98.2 percent, the highest in the district. Five other schools also posted graduation rates above 95 percent: Johns Creek High School (97.3 percent); Milton High School (96.9 percent); Alpharetta High School (96.5 percent); Chattahoochee High School (96.2 percent); and Northview High School (96.1 percent).   

Alpharetta High School had the largest one–year gain, increasing their graduation rate by three percentage points from 93.5 percent in 2019 to 96.5 percent in 2020. In all, eight of 19 high schools in the district saw an increase in the graduation rate for 2020.   

“COVID clearing impacted our seniors last year; but we are proud of their perseverance,” said Jones.  “While a few of our schools have seen more challenges than others due to this crisis, the district’s overall rate reflects hard work by students and staff to ensure every student succeeds.”  

Graduation rates released by the Georgia Department of Education for schools in the Fulton County district are shown below: 

 grad scores for 2020

As required by federal law, Georgia calculates a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. This rate is defined as the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for the graduating class. The cohort is formed at the beginning of ninth grade by the group of students who enter ninth grade for the first time in a stated year. The cohort is then adjusted over the next three years by adding students who transfer in and subtracting students who transfer out.