• by Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2005
Thirty-six percent of the freshman class of 2001-02 left school prior to graduating from a Texas public high school in the 2004-05 school year. For each of the last 15 years, the statewide attrition rate in Texas has been higher than the initial rate of 33 percent in the Intercultural Development Research Association’s landmark 1985-86 study. School holding power in Texas is still less than satisfactory.
The current rate of 36 percent compares to attrition rates of 39 percent in 2001-02, 38 percent in 2002-03, and 36 percent in 2003-04.
Attrition rates are an indicator of a school’s holding power or ability to keep students enrolled in school and learning until they graduate. Along with other dropout measures, attrition rates are useful in studying the magnitude of the dropout problem and the success of schools in keeping students in school.
Attrition, in its simplest form, is the rate of shrinkage in size or number. Therefore, an attrition rate is the percent change in grade level enrollment between a base year and an end year.
During the fall of each year, school districts are required to report information to the Texas Education Agency via the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) for all public school students and grade levels. IDRA’s attrition studies involve an analysis of ninth-grade enrollment figures and 12th-grade enrollment figures three years later. This period represents the time span during which a student would be enrolled in high school.
IDRA collects and uses high school enrollment data from the Fall Membership Survey of TEA to compute countywide and statewide attrition rates by race-ethnicity and gender. Enrollment data from special school districts (military schools, state schools and charter schools) are excluded from the analyses, because they are likely to have unstable enrollments or lack a tax base for school programs.
Historical statewide attrition rates and numbers of students lost to attrition are categorized by race-ethnicity and by gender. General conclusions from this year’s study follow.
Latest Study Results
The class of 2005 began with 357,331 students. Of those 137,424 were lost from public school enrollment between the 200102 and 2004-05 school years. (See table.)
Spanning a 20-year period from 1985-86 through 2004-05, the IDRA attrition studies provide time series data on the number and percent of public school students who leave school prior to graduation.
In 1986, IDRA conducted Texas’ first comprehensive statewide study of high school dropouts using a high school attrition formula to estimate the number and percent of students who leave school prior to graduation. The study in 1986 was the state’s first major effort to assess the school holding power of Texas public schools.
IDRA’s inaugural study found that 86,276 students had not graduated from Texas public high schools, costing the state $17 billion in forgone income, lost tax revenues, and increased job training, welfare, unemployment and criminal justice costs (Cárdenas, Robledo and Supik, 1986).
Between the 1985-86 and 200405 school years, 2.2 million students have been lost from public school enrollment costing the state of Texas about $500 billion in forgone income, lost tax revenues, and increased job training, welfare, unemployment and criminal justice costs.
The overall attrition rate has increased by 9 percent from 198586 to 2004-05. The percentage of students who left high school prior to graduation was 33 percent in 1985-86 compared to 36 percent now. Over the past two decades, attrition rates have fluctuated between a low of 31 percent in 1988-89 and 1989-90 to a high of 43 percent in 1996-97.
Numerically, 137,424 students were lost from public high school enrollment in 2004-05 compared to 86,276 in 1985-86.
The overall attrition rate was less than 40 percent in 2004-05 for the fourth time in 10 years. Between 1994-95 and 2000-01, the overall attrition rate ranged from a low of 40 percent to a high of 43 percent. In 2003-04 and 2004-05, the overall attrition rate was 36 percent, representing the lowest rate since 1992-93.
The gaps between attrition rates of Hispanic students and Black students and those of White students have widened since 198586. Hispanic students and Black students historically have had much higher attrition rates than White students. From 1985-86 to 2004-05, attrition rates of Hispanic students increased by 7 percent (from 45 percent to 48 percent). During this same period, the attrition rates of Black students increased by 26 percent (from 34 percent to 43 percent). Attrition rates of White students declined by 19 percent (from 27 percent to 22 percent). Hispanic students have higher attrition rates than either White students or Black students.
From 1985-86 to 2004-05, Native American students, Asian/Pacific Islander students and White students saw a decline in their attrition rates. Native American students had a decline of 11 percent in their attrition rates (from 45 percent to 40 percent), and Asian/Pacific Islander students had a decline of 48 percent (from 33 percent to 17 percent).
Over the past 20 years, the attrition rates for White students have been considerably lower than the rates for Black students and Hispanic students. White students have experienced a decline in their attrition rates over this period, while Black students and Hispanic students have experienced an increase in their attrition rates. When compared to 1985-86, the attrition rates for White students are 19 percent lower, while the attrition rates for Black students are 26 percent higher and the attrition rates for Hispanic students are 7 percent higher. The attrition rates for Asian/Pacific Islander students are 43 percent lower, and the attrition rates for Native American students are 11 percent lower.
The gap between the attrition rates of White students and Black students has increased from 7 percentage points in 1985-86 to 21 percentage points in 2004-05. Similarly, during this time period, the gap between the attrition rates of White students and Hispanic students has increased from 18 percentage points in 1985-86 to 26 percentage points in 2004-05. The gap between the attrition rates of White students and Native American students has remained constant at 18 percentage points in both 1985-86 and 2004-05.
Asian/Pacific Islander students exhibited the greatest positive trend in the reduction of the gap in attrition rates compared to White students. In fact, rates for Asian/Pacific Islander students were 6 percentage points higher than those of White students but now are 5 percentage points lower than those of White students.
Historically, the attrition rates for Hispanic students and Black students have been higher than the overall attrition rates. For the period of 1985-86 to 2004-05, students from ethnic minority groups account for more than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of the estimated 2.2 million students lost from public high school enrollment.
Hispanic students account for 50.1 percent of the students lost to attrition. Black students account for 17.3 percent of all students lost from enrollment due to attrition over the years. White students account for 31.2 percent of students lost from high school enrollment over time. Attrition rates for White students and Asian/Pacific Islander students have been typically lower than the overall attrition rates.
The attrition rates for males have been higher than those of females. Between 1985-86 and 200405, attrition rates for males have increased by 11 percent (from 35 percent to 39 percent). Attrition rates for females have remained unchanged at 32 percent in both 1985-86 and 2004-05. Longitudinally, males have accounted for 56.6 percent of students lost from school enrollment, while females have accounted for 43.4 percent.
See the graphic above for rates over time. Also see the map on right and the tables for rates by county. To see rates over time by county go online to www.idra.org.
Though the overall attrition rate has remained under 40 percent over the last four years, school holding power in the schools across Texas is still abysmal as many schools have failed to keep students in schools through graduation with a high school diploma. Though the overall attrition rate has declined by several percentage points, attrition rates have remained relatively stable.
Texas public schools are failing to graduate two out of every five students. Attrition rates as an indicator in a school holding power index show that the attrition rate has remained near 40 percent overall and higher than 40 percent for Black students and Hispanic students.
IDRA attrition analyses show that, since the mid-1980s, the number and percent of students lost from public school enrollment has increased for the state of Texas. TEA paints another picture.
IDRA’s studies show that the overall attrition rate has increased from 33 percent in 1985-86 to 36 percent in 2004-05. The annual number of students lost from public school enrollment has increased from 86,276 in 1985-86 to 137,424 in 2004-05.
TEA studies report that the seventh through 12th grade annual dropout rate has declined from 6.7 percent in 198788 to 0.9 percent in 2003-04. And the number of dropouts has declined from 91,307 students to 16,434 students during this same time period.
In August 2005, TEA reported for the 2003-04 school year an annual dropout rate of 0.9 percent for grades seven through 12 and 1.2 percent for grades nine through 12. For the class of 2004, TEA reported a longitudinal dropout rate of 4.2 percent for grades seven through 12 and 3.9 percent for grades nine through 12. For the 2003-04 school year, TEA reported 16,434 dropouts for grades seven through 12 and 15,160 dropouts for grades nine through 12. TEA found that the grade seven through 12 attrition rate in 2004 was 20 percent, while the grade nine through 12 attrition rate was 32.6 percent.
In November 2002, TEA published a dropout study for the 76th Texas Legislature using the national dropout definition of NCES. TEA found that the 1999-00 annual dropout rate for grades nine through 12 using the NCES definition was 5.0 percent compared to 1.8 percent using the TEA definition. When the NCES definition was used, a total of 54,390 students were reported as dropouts compared to 21,439 students using the TEA definition, a difference of 32,951 students. According to TEA, for grades nine through 12, the ratio of NCES dropouts to TEA dropouts was 2.5 to 1. The NCES annual dropout rate for grades nine through 12 was 2.8 times higher than the TEA annual dropout rate.
For grades seven through 12, the annual dropout rate for Texas was 3.5 percent using the NCES definition compared to 1.3 percent using the TEA definition. The greatest difference in the NCES and TEA dropout counts was between the number of students entering GED programs. There were 11,675 GED recipients included in the NCES counts who were not included in the TEA counts. TEA counts GED students who receive a certificate by March 1 of the next school year, while NCES counts as GED students those who receive certificates before the last Friday in October of the next school year.
Overall, there are five groups of students counted as dropouts using the NCES definition that are not counted as dropouts under the TEA definition: (1) a student who withdraws to enroll in an approved adult education GED preparation program; (2) a senior who meets all graduation requirements but does not pass the exit-level Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS); (3) a student previously counted as a dropout; (4) a student enrolled in school but not eligible for state Foundation School Program funds; and (5) a dropout for whom the last district of attendance cannot be determined (Texas Education Agency, 2000).
Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, TEA will routinely calculate dropout and school completion rates using both the NCES and TEA methodologies. NCES and TEA define a dropout as a student who is enrolled in school at some time during the school year but either leaves school during the year without an approved excuse or completes the school year and does not return the following year.
Using the NCES dropout definition, the Texas annual dropout rate of 5.0 percent for grades nine through 12 ranked 24th out of 37 states including the District of Columbia. The greatest implication of using the NCES dropout definition will be that the dropout rate and number of dropouts will no doubt increase. IDRA believes that both the NCES and TEA methods of calculating dropouts still undercount the numbers of students lost from public school enrollment prior to graduation with a high school diploma. (See table that compares the NCES and TEA dropout definitions and calculations.)
IDRA has dealt with the issue of school dropouts for more than 20 years. Dr. María Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director, has presented the following seven lessons from Texas:
- Losing children from our school systems is a persistent, unacknowledged problem.
- Fraud is a red herring – distracting us from the real problem that is before us. Undercounting is the result of institutional intransigence, not massive fraud.
- Accountability systems did not create dropouts.
- High-stakes testing and accountability systems must be uncoupled.
- We cannot afford to decide that some kids do not count.
- Dropout data are not a legitimate reason to give up on public education.
- It is time to move from dropping out to holding on.
More information about these lessons is available online at http://www.idra.org/images/stories/7lessons.pdf (Robledo Montecel, 2004).
Reducing the dropout rate and increasing the number and percentage of students who complete a high school education are national and state goals. Keeping students in school through graduation and subsequent enrollment in post-secondary education must continue to be a major focus of the educational agenda in this state and the nation. The call to action to improve school holding power in our nation’s schools must be issued, heard and undertaken in every community.
Number of Students Lost to Attrition in Texas, School Years 1985-86 to 2004-05
|Figures calculated by IDRA from the Texas Education Agency Fall Membership Survey data.
Rates were not calculated for the 1990-91 and 1993-94 school years due to the unavailability of data.
Source: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2005.
Comparison of TEA and NCES Dropout Definitions
Texas Education Agency
National Center for
TEA and NCES both define a dropout as a student who is enrolled in school at some time during the school year but either: leaves school during the school year without an approved excuse or completes the school year and does not return the following year.
|Leavers not considered dropouts
A student who leaves school for one of the following reasons is not considered a dropout by TEA or NCES:
• transfers to, or withdraws with intent to transfer to, a public or private school;
• is being home schooled;
• enrolls in college; or
|A student who leaves school for one of the following reasons is not considered a dropout by TEA:
||A student who leaves school for one of the following reasons is not considered a dropout by NCES:
|Dropouts excluded from the dropout count
Dropouts excluded from TEA counts include:
Returning students are those who enroll at any time before the next school year.
|Except for migrant students, returning students are those enrolled on the last Friday in October or the third week of January of the next school year.|
Summer dropouts are added to the counts of the school years and grade levels completed.
|Summer dropouts are added to the counts of the school years and grade levels in which they fail to enroll.|
Cumulative attendance is used as the denominator in dropout rate calculations.
|Fall enrollment is used as the denominator in dropout rate calculations.|
|Source: Texas Education Agency, Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools: 2003-04, August 2005|
Cárdenas, J.A., and M. Robledo, J. Supik. Texas School Dropout Survey Project: A Summary of Findings (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).
Robledo Montecel, M. “From Dropping Out to Holding On: Seven Lessons from Texas,” Speech to Education Writers Association (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2004) http://www.idra.org/images/stories/7lessons.pdf .
Texas Education Agency. Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools: 2002-03 (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, August 2005).
Texas Education Agency, Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools: 1999-00 – National Center for Education Statistics State and District Dropout Counts and Rates (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, 2000).
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics. Documentation to the NCES Common Core of Data, Local Education Agency Universe Dropout File: School Year 1999-00.
Roy L. Johnson, M.S., is the director of the IDRA Division of Evaluation Research. Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2005 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]