The Barrow County School System’s four-year graduation rate dipped by 2.5 percentage points in 2020, but remained above the statewide average for the eighth consecutive year, according to information released by the district on Monday, Nov. 9, and officials suggested challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic may have factored into the drop.

For the school system’s class of 2020 “cohort,” 85.1 percent of students graduated within four years of entering high school districtwide — down from a high mark of 87.6 percent in 2019, but still above the 83.8-percent mark in Georgia. Apalachee High School’s rate dropped 4.8 points from 90.7 to 85.9 percent in 2020, while Winder-Barrow High School saw a 0.4-percent decline to 84.4.

The district had 773 students graduate in May.

While the district’s high schools have focused more intensely in recent years on providing more resources for at-risk students and set up meetings with students and parents to identify goals to help them meet graduation requirements, officials said the shift to 100-percent online learning in March due to the pandemic “introduced new challenges in reaching these at-risk students.”

“The traditional methods to support students with daily, in-person check-ins were not available, and interactions with students were different. While schools persistently reached out to students, it was difficult to get in touch with some,” officials said in a news release. “Due to parent job loss and income reductions, some students needed to work full-time to financially contribute to their families. Others may not have had access to stay connected and engaged in their learning. For some students, online learning was challenging to demonstrate mastery in the content without the traditional in-person instruction and support.”

Overall, district officials said they were proud of seniors who persevered through the final two months of the school year.

“We commend our students for their ability to adapt and thrive under such challenging circumstances,” superintendent Chris McMichael said.

While Barrow County saw a drop in its graduation rate for 2020, the statewide rate increased by 1.8 points to 83.8 percent — an all-time high since the state began using the federally-required adjusted cohort calculation in 2012, according to a Georgia Department of Education news release. In 2020, 105 districts and 230 high schools had graduation rates at 90 percent or above, while 29 districts and 89 schools were at or above 95 percent.

Georgia’s graduation rate has increased by 14.1 points since 2012, with steady increases each year, and Barrow County has followed mostly the same trajectory since a 72.1-percent mark in 2013. The district saw a decline from 83.9 percent in 2016 to 82.6 percent in 2017, before increasing to 86.1 percent in 2018.

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