The rate of Marietta High School seniors who walked across the stage this spring was up from last year, while the graduation rate for Cobb students held steady at 83 percent, according to data released by the school districts Wednesday.

Marietta High’s graduation rate for the 2016-17 school year was 78.5 percent, up from 75.1 percent in 2015-16, data shows. The district has graduated a greater percentage of students in each of the last seven years, and while Marietta trails the state average of 80.6 percent, district officials say they are optimistic that rates continue to climb.

“Every single child matters here in our district, and we have a duty to make sure every student graduates, with skills, on time,” Marietta Superintendent Grant Rivera said, noting that it’s important to have teachers and counselors in place who can meet a student’s individual needs and keep them on track to graduate.

In 2011, data shows Marietta’s graduation rate was less than 60 percent. Rates have improved each year since, in part because the district is working to better track students who move to other districts, said John Floresta, Marietta’s strategy and innovation director. When enrolled students withdraw and move to another district without first notifying their school, they are frequently counted as a “dropouts,” which brings graduation statistics down, he said.

“When a student walks onto our campus for just one day, we become responsible for tracking them and identifying where they go. But when you (only) factor in the students who are on campus all four years, our graduation rate is more than 90 percent,” Floresta said. “The other half of the conversation is centered on instructional support and what we can do to get these students the credits they need to graduate on time.”

Cobb schools face similar challenges with tracking transient students who leave a school without first notifying the district, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said Wednesday.

While six Cobb schools boasted graduation rates higher than 90 percent, two high schools, Pebblebrook and Osborne, had rates of less than 70 percent.

“We have to look at what counts for and against these graduation rates,” Ragsdale said. “When you have a student that leaves the school and you can’t show where that student is enrolled or if they’re enrolled, they count as a dropout. It’s really not logical, and it’s really not fair to schools who have zero control over the transient rate.”

Graduation rates, he said, don’t necessarily reflect a school’s academic performance. Osborne, which had the district’s second lowest rate last year at 67.5 percent, would have a rate above 90 percent if so many students didn’t move away without telling anyone, the superintendent said.

He said employees try to track down students through social media or calling up other districts, but if a student leaves the state, it is difficult to prove they are enrolled elsewhere.

“We’re still three points ahead of the state and ahead of some significant other districts,” Ragsdale said, “but we want graduation rates to reflect a school’s academic performance.”

Rivera echoed that sentiment, saying graduation rates should be a reflection of a student’s success at a given high school.

“I don’t think that graduation rates should be about pieces of paper that families forget to submit when they move,” he said. “The community assumes that graduation rates are about students passing classes, and while that’s partly true, rates are also impacted by families we can’t track who are no longer in the community.”

The superintendents of both districts say they are working to increase rates in their respective districts. Data shows Marietta High’s rates have increased 12 percent over the last five school years. And while eight of Cobb’s 16 schools saw graduation rates drop between 2016 and 2017, Osborne High has improved by more than 19 percent over the last five years, from 48.4 percent in 2013 to 67.5 percent in 2017, data shows.

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