Frequently Asked Questions about School Holding Power and Attrition

How many students are dropping out of Texas’ public schools?

The latest annual attrition study released by IDRA in October of 2015 reveals the following.

  • Texas is failing to graduate one out of every four students.
  • 73 counties had a lower attrition rate than last year, 136 counties had a higher attrition rate than last year, and 20 counties had the same rate as last year.
  • The highest attrition rates are concentrated in regions with the largest student enrollment counts, particularly those in urban areas and those with the largest low-income and minority populations.
  • The racial-ethnic gaps are nearly as high as or higher than 30 years ago.
  • Black students and Hispanic students are about two times more likely to leave school without graduating with a diploma than White students.
  • English language learners are the subgroup that is most likely to drop out of school.
  • In the last 30 years, Texas schools have lost a cumulative total of more than 3.5 million students from public high school enrollment prior to graduation. 

Infographic: Texas High School Attrition
See IDRA’s updated graphic showing how Texas public schools are losing one out of four students. It doesn’t have to be this way. (sharable web graphic, png)

Infographic: One district cut its dropout rates in half.
Texas is improving attrition rates by 1-2 percent each year, and gaps have not gotten better in almost three decades. But one school district cut its dropout rates in half. Others can too. (shareable web graphic, png

What are the different types of dropout data?
The four NCES rates and along with other traditional measures, such as the attrition rate and cohort dropout rates, provide unique information about high school dropouts, completers and graduates. Though each methodology has different meaning and calculation methods, each provides unique information that is important for assessing schools’ quality of education and school holding power.

See IDRA’s graphical description of different types of dropout data.

Also see “Understanding High School Graduation Rates in the United States” by the Alliance
for Excellent Education (pdf)

The five NCES rates and along with other traditional measures, such as the attrition rate and cohort dropout rates, provide unique information about high school dropouts, completers and graduates. Though each methodology has different meaning and calculation methods, each provides unique information that is important for assessing schools’ quality of education and school holding power.

Also see “Understanding High School Graduation Rates in the United States” by the Alliance
for Excellent Education (pdf)

Don’t the state’s “leaver codes” tell us where students are?
The Texas Education Agency’s “leaver” coding system had the potential of providing much improved state reports on the number of students either graduating from or leaving school before obtaining a high school diploma. “Leavers” are students who leave school for certain reasons, and the codes place those reasons into categories. Some categories of students who leave school are not counted as dropouts. IDRA and others have repeatedly raised concerns about the potential for misuse of those leaver codes to mask and under-state dropout rates proved to be well-founded. Among those concerns are the lack of verification and a disturbing increase in the number of high school leavers reported as “home schooled.” For more information see, “Graduates, Dropouts and Leaver Codes in Texas
,” by Albert Cortez, Ph.D., on Page 14 of the Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2009-10. Also see story on Page 25 of the Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2013-14.

How does IDRA calculate attrition?
IDRA calculates attrition by: (1) dividing the high school enrollment in the end year by the high school enrollment in the base year; (2) multiplying the results from Calculation 1 by the ninth grade enrollment in the base year; (3) subtracting the results from Calculation 2 from the 12th grade enrollment in the end year; and (4) dividing the results of Calculation 3 by the result of Calculation 2. The attrition rate results (percentages) were rounded to the nearest whole number.

Does IDRA provide attrition rates for individual districts or schools?
No. IDRA provides attrition data at the Texas state level and at the county level. However, district level attrition data as reported by the Texas Education Agency are available on IDRA’s OurSchool data portal.

Why is measuring attrition useful?
Attrition rates are an indicator of a school’s holding power, or ability to keep students enrolled in school and learning until they graduate. IDRA conducts attrition analyses of enrollment figures at two points in time (ninth grade and 12th grade enrollment four years later). This allows for increases and decreases in a district’s enrollment figures since district enrollment may vary from school year to school year.

Attrition rates tell us how many students are missing. The next question for schools and communities is, Where are our students?

In addition, IDRA has used the same methodology since its inaugural statewide study in 1986. So we can make comparisons over time.

How can we compare Texas with other states?
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases averaged freshman graduation rates that compare the 50 states and the District of Columbia. See story showing the latest comparison.

Do accountability systems create dropouts?
Accountability systems did not create dropouts. Losing children from our school systems has long been a problem. Unacceptably high dropout rates pre-date the accountability systems developed over the last several years in response to the concern about the effect of under-education on the current information-based economy. In fact, dropout rates for Hispanic students in the 1940s have been estimated around 80 percent (Cárdenas, 1995).

Accountability systems that do not hurt children will not create dropouts. High-stakes testing does hurt children and will increase the dropout rate (see Lesson Four).

Diagnostic student assessments are useful to guide instruction. And the use of state assessment measures is one of several necessary factors in assessing school effectiveness and for holding schools accountable for educating all of our students. Tests can play an important role in this kind of school accountability – one that accepts the responsibility that schools have toward children and communities.

Is this dropout data legitimate reason to give up on public education?
Giving up on public education does not solve the dropout problem. Private schools do not have the capacity or capability to absorb large numbers of poor students. Private schools are not accountable to the public for actions or results. Further, distributing public money for private schools would take away money from our communities resulting in higher taxes for homeowners and businesses in the community.

Excellent neighborhood public schools are the foundation of strong communities. The best way to strengthen public schools is to strengthen public schools – schools that are accountable to us all.

What can be done to strengthen school holding power?
The problem is systemic. So the solutions must address schools as systems. IDRA’s Quality School Action Framework shows how communities and schools can work together to strengthen pubic schools’ capacities to improve the holding power of schools through the following six areas – fair funding, governance efficacy, parent and community engagement, student engagement, teaching quality, and curriculum quality and access.

IDRA’s Quality School Action Framework guides communities and schools in identifying weak areas and strengthening public schools’ capacities to graduate and prepare all students for success. IDRA’s book, Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ shows how communities and schools can work together to be successful with all of their students. The book’s web page provides a table of contents, excerpt, related podcasts and other resources.

College Bound and Determined – School District Proves that a School District Can Assure that All Students are College Bound
Today, IDRA is releasing a new report, College Bound and Determined, showing how the Pharr-San Juan Alamo school district in south Texas transformed itself from low achievement and low expectations to planning for all students to graduate from high school and college. In PSJA, transformation went beyond changing sobering graduation rates or even getting graduates into college. This school district is changing how we think about college readiness.

IDRA has outlined a set of principles for federal- and state-level policy.

See strategies for how parents, community members and school personnel can take action together.

See a list of components research shows are vital to strong school holding power.

Learn about the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program.

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