The Baldwin County Public School System last week revealed its four-year, on-time 2014 graduation rate was 84 percent, an increase over last year’s 80 percent and 74 percent in 2012.

The announcement came less than a week after the Mobile County Public School System disclosed its graduation rate at 82 percent and about a month after the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) announced the state’s overall high school graduation rate had reached a new record high — 86 percent.

“We are absolutely delighted to see the graduation rate making these kinds of unprecedented gains. It is the result of teachers focusing on identifying the specific needs of students, removing barriers to learning and helping students meet their goals,” State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice said in a news release.

Of the county’s seven high schools, Spanish Fort ranked the highest at 94 percent followed by Daphne at 90 percent, Fairhope High School at 87 percent, Baldwin County and Gulf Shores high schools at 83 percent, Robertsdale High School at 82 percent and Foley High School at 75 percent.

Superintendent Robbie Owen said the goal for BCPSS is to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate.

The rate was calculated by the Alabama Department of Education through a statewide formula adopted in 2005 by the National Governor’s Association, and reflects how many students entered high school as freshmen in 2010 compared to how many graduated in the spring of 2014.

Previous methods of determining graduation rates made it difficult to compare rates from state to state however, the new initiative implements a common formula for calculating rates based on a four-year cohort, which makes it possible for states to uniformly track their graduation rates, ALSDE public information specialist Erica Pippins said.

According to Baldwin County schools spokesman Terry Wilhite, one challenge seen by BCPSS is that students often move out of the school district. If a student transfers, and the school system is unable to follow up and confirm the student has since enrolled in another high school, therefore that student counts as a dropout, he said.

Further, Wilhite said BCPSS works to account for all students who transfer, but it does not always happen. Such instances should be taken into consideration when thinking about the school system’s overall graduation rate, he said.

In a press release issued by the ALSDE, Bice said exceeding the state’s previous record-breaking graduation rate of 86 percent is just further validation that teachers and students are working harder than ever.

“Students are taking responsibility for their own academic success and putting in the hard work that is required to graduate from high school,” he said. “In an era of more rigorous academic standards, greater accountability and higher expectations of our teachers and students, Alabama educators and the students they serve continue to demonstrate what steadfast resolve and hard work garners.”

According to the ALSDE, the state’s initial goal was to reach a graduation rate of 86 percent by 2018; however, that benchmark was met four years ahead of the predicted schedule. The state is setting a new goal for a statewide graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020.

A recent report by the independent organization Business Education Alliance of Alabama suggests that reaching a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 would have a $430 million greater economic impact on the state than if it remained at its current level.

Furthermore, each year Alabama maintains a graduation rate of 90 percent, each graduating class would increase by 5,643 statewide, resulting in 3,564 graduates entering the workforce and a net addition of 1,167 more people employed, according to the ALDSE. This means each class with a 90 percent graduation rate would earn $68 million more than a class with last year’s statewide graduation rate of 80 percent.

Despite the increase in graduation rates across the state, various school systems along with the ALSDE agree it is important to see students graduate, but it is even more important to ensure students finish high school with a quality education to successfully enter college or the workforce.

According to the BCPSS website, every Baldwin County student upon graduation will be multilingual, fluent in a language other than the student’s native language; internationally connected, aware of international issues based upon personal experiences and relationships; civic minded, active in community life and involved in addressing global challenges; collaborative, skilled at working within a team to solve problems around a common goal; academically competitive, effectively prepared to succeed in national and global arenas and technologically savvy, adept at using technology to be innovative and entrepreneurial.

Additionally, every graduate will be college and career ready, or able to move seamlessly into post-secondary education or a chosen profession through preparation within one or more of the following: International Baccalaureate Programme (IB), Advanced Placement courses (AP), dual enrollment in college classes and Career Academies.