The cumulative costs of students leaving public high school prior to graduation with a diploma are continuing to escalate. Between the 1985-86 and 2000-01 school years, the estimated cumulative costs of public school dropouts in the state of Texas were in excess of $441 billion.
In 1986, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) conducted Texas’ first comprehensive statewide study of high school dropouts. Using a high school attrition formula, 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). IDRA’s latest study spans a 16-year time period from 1985-86 through 2000-01 and documents the number and percent of public school students who leave school prior to graduation.
Attrition data provide the number and rate of students leaving high school prior to graduation. IDRA’s attrition rate formula calculates the percent change in enrollment between ninth grade and 12th grade three years later. Attrition refers to the percent of students lost from a cohort during a baseline and an ending period.
Research by IDRA shows that between 1985-86 and 2000-01 about 1.6 million secondary school students have been lost from public school enrollment in Texas. The statewide attrition rate has ranged from a low of 31 percent in 1988-89 and 1989-90 to a high of 43 percent in 1996-97.
On the average, nearly 115,000 students do not graduate each year, costing the state in excess of $441 billion between 1985-86 and 2000-01. The percent of students lost from public high school enrollment prior to graduation has remained unchanged over the past two years at 40 percent. Each year since 1994-95, two of every five students from a freshman class has left school before graduating.
Latest Attrition Study
The latest IDRA attrition study, completed in October 2001, reflects that two of every five students (40 percent) of the freshman (ninth grade) class of 1997-98 left school prior to high school graduation in 2000-01. An estimated 144,241 students from the class of 2001 were lost from enrollment due to attrition.
IDRA used high school enrollment data from the Fall Membership Survey of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to compute countywide and statewide attrition rates by race-ethnicity and sex. The enrollment data from special school districts (military schools, state schools, and charter schools) were excluded from the analyses since they are likely to have unstable enrollments and/or lack a tax base to support school programs.
During the fall of each year, school districts are required to report information to TEA via the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) for all students and grade levels. IDRA’s attrition studies involve the analysis of ninth grade enrollment figures and 12th grade enrollment figures three years later. This period represents the time span during which a ninth grade student would be enrolled in high school prior to graduation.
Historical Attrition Data
Historical statewide attrition rates are categorized by race and ethnicity and by gender. General conclusions follow.
The overall attrition rate has increased by 21 percent from 1985-86 to 2000-01. The percentage of students who left high school prior to graduation increased by 21.2 percent, from 33 percent in 1985-86 to 40 percent in 2000-01. Over the past 16 years, 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, 144,241 students were lost from public high school enrollment in 2000-01 as compared to 86,272 in 1985-86.
Over the last two years, the attrition rate has remained unchanged. From 1999-00 to 2000-01, the attrition rate remained unchanged at 40 percent.
The gap between attrition rates of Hispanic students and Black students and those of White students has widened since 1985-86. Hispanic students and Black students have had considerably higher attrition rates than White students. From 1985-86 to 2000-01, attrition rates for Hispanic students have increased 16 percent, from 45 percent to 52 percent. During this same period, the attrition rates for Black students have increased by 35 percent, from 34 percent to 46 percent. Attrition rates for White students have remained unchanged at 27 percent in 1985-86 and in 2000-01. Hispanic students have higher attrition rates than either White students or Black students.
From 1985-86 and 2000-01, Native American students and Asian/Pacific Islander students had a decline in their attrition rates. Native American students had a 7 percent decline in their attrition rates, from 45 percent to 42 percent, while Asian/Pacific Islander students had a decline of 39 percent, from 33 percent to 20 percent.
The historical attrition rates for students who are Hispanic, Black or Native American have been typically higher than the overall attrition rates. For the period of 1985-86 to 2000-01, students from ethnic minority groups accounted for two-thirds of the estimated 1.6 million students lost from public high school enrollment. Hispanic students account for nearly half (48.1 percent) of the estimated 1.6 million students lost to attrition. Black students have accounted for 17.2 percent of all students lost from enrollment due to attrition over the years, and White students have accounted for 33.2 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 2000-01, attrition rates for males have increased by 22.9 percent, from 35 percent to 43 percent. Attrition rates for females have increased by 12.5 percent, from 32 percent to 36 percent. Longitudinally, males have accounted for 56.2 percent of students lost from school enrollment, while females have accounted for 43.8 percent.
Latest Attrition Results
Findings from the latest attrition study confirm those of earlier studies that Hispanic students and Black students are at greater risk of being lost from high school enrollment prior to graduation than White students. Results from the study also show that males are more likely to be lost from enrollment than females. Major findings of the 2000-01 attrition study include the following.
Two of every five high school students were lost from high school enrollment prior to graduation. Forty percent or two of every five students enrolled in the ninth grade in Texas public schools during the 1997-98 school year failed to reach the 12th grade in 2000-01. An estimated 144,241 students, or about 40 percent of the 1997-98 freshman class, were lost from public school enrollment by 2000-01.
Hispanic students and Black students were more likely than White students to be lost from high school enrollment in 2000-01. Fifty-two percent of Hispanic students and 46 percent of Black students were lost from public school enrollment, compared to 27 percent of White students. Hispanic students were 1.9 times more likely than White students to leave school before graduation, while Black students were 1.7 times more likely than White students to leave school before graduation.
From 1999-00 to 2000-01, three racial-ethnic groups had a decline in attrition rates: White students had a decline from 28 percent to 27 percent, Black students had a decline from 47 percent to 46 percent, and Native American students had a decline from 43 percent to 42 percent. Two racial-ethnic groups had no change in their attrition rates from 1999-00 to 2000-01. Attrition rates for Asian/Pacific Islander students remained unchanged at 20 percent, and those of Hispanic students remained unchanged at 52 percent.
Hispanic students made up the highest percentage of students lost from public high school enrollment in 2000-01. Over half (52.5 percent) of the students lost from school enrollment were Hispanic. White students comprised 28.9 percent of the students lost from enrollment, and Black students comprised 17.0 percent.
Males were more likely to be lost from enrollment than females. For 2000-01, 43 percent of males were lost from public high school enrollment, compared to 36 percent of females. Males constituted 57.4 percent of all students lost from public school enrollment compared to 42.6 percent for females.
Overall, there has been a 21 percent increase in the attrition rate since 1985-86. The percent of students lost from public high school enrollment has increased by 21.2 percent between the 1985-86 school year (33 percent) and the 2000-01 school year (40 percent). The number of students lost through attrition per school year has increased from 86,276 in 1985-86 to about 144,241 in 2000-01.
Enrollment and attrition data for the 1997-98 and 2000-01 school years are categorized by race and ethnicity. Statewide and county attrition rates are presented for the three major race and ethnicity groups in the state. The map below displays the distribution of 2000-01 attrition rates by county in Texas. Nine counties had overall attrition rates of 50 percent or greater.
Texas Education Agency Reported Dropout Rates
In August 2001, TEA released its report on school completion and dropout rates entitled, Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools, 1999-00. In comparison with those in the past, this report provided greater specificity on school completion and various dropout rates. Published reports by IDRA and TEA reach markedly different conclusions about the number and percent of students who do not graduate from Texas public high schools.
IDRA attrition analyses show that the number and percent of students lost has increased since the mid-1980s with no change in rate over the last two years. Conversely, TEA estimates indicate that dropout rates have declined steadily during this same period.
For the 1999-00 school year, TEA reported a 1.3 percent annual (event) dropout rate, a 7.2 percent longitudinal dropout rate (grades nine through 12), a 36.6 percent attrition rate (grades nine through 12), and 23,457 dropouts (grades seven through 12).
For the 1999-00 and 2000-01 school years, IDRA showed a 40 percent attrition rate with 146,714 students lost due to attrition in 1999-00 and 144, 241 students lost to attrition in 2000-01. (See the graph below for a comparison of attrition and state dropout data.)
Using its school leaver reporting system, TEA reported that out of 1.9 million students enrolled in grades seven through 12 during the 1999-00 school year, 99 percent were accounted for. Of the 1,897,459 students, TEA reported that:
- 1,364,125 were returning students,
- 212,925 were graduates,
- 116,644 were official leavers,
- 157,818 were excluded other leavers,
- 23,457 were official dropouts,
- 7,566 were excluded dropouts, and
- 19,718 were underreported students.
For the 1999-00 school year, TEA used 46 school leaver codes to categorize students as graduates, dropouts, or other leavers. Of 518,410 leaver records, the most utilized codes included graduates (212,925), intent to enroll in a public school in Texas (132,596), intent to enroll in school out of state (35,039), and alternative program working toward General Educational Development (GED) credential (21,011). Reported moves to other educational settings included:
- No intent but documented enrollment in a public school in Texas: 18,650,
- Withdrew for home schooling: 12,721,
- Intent to enroll in a private school in Texas: 8,501,
- No intent but documented enrollment in school out of state: 7,375, and
- Official transfer to another Texas public school district: 4,643.
It is clear that a significant number of students who could be reported as dropouts are excluded from the official dropout count. Arguably, more than 150,000 students lacking documented and official transfer status could be included in the state’s dropout counts.
National and State Dropout Rates
In 1999, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported an annual (event) dropout rate of 5.0 percent, a status dropout rate of 11.2 percent, and a high school completion rate of 85.9 percent for the United States (based on the states that submitted state-level data). NCES used data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) of the U.S. Census Bureau to compute national high school dropout and completion rates by various background characteristics as sex, race-ethnicity, family income, and region of the country (NCES, 2000).
NCES concluded that dropout rates have fluctuated over the past quarter of the century with an overall downward trend (see box below). NCES further concluded that Hispanic students and Black students are at greater risk of dropping out than are White students and that the percentage of students who dropped out of school each year is relatively unchanged. According to the report, there is a considerable gap in the high school completion rates of White students (91.2 percent), Black students (83.5 percent) and Hispanic students (63.4 percent).
NCES is working with state education agencies and school districts across the country, through the National Cooperative for Elementary and Secondary Statistics and the Common Core Data collection, to develop a national database of public school dropout rates. The number of participating states using consistent data definitions and collection procedures has increased from 14 in 1991-92 to 37 in 1997-98. Through 1996-97, 38 states including the District of Columbia reported event dropout data. The most recent report, which presents event dropout rates for the 1997-98 school year, presented rates for 37 states and the District of Columbia. Rates for the state of Texas were not presented, perhaps due to the growing discrepancy between the rates reported by TEA and NCES.
In 1996-97, NCES reported that Texas had a national comparison annual dropout rate of 3.6 percent. This rate was higher than the 1.6 percent reported by TEA in its annual state report for that year, primarily due to dropout definitions and calculation methodologies. A state comparison of the percent of teens who are high school dropouts is presented in the map below.
As this report shows, the estimated net loss in revenues and related costs to the state of Texas continues to escalate. In 1986, IDRA estimated that the issue of school dropouts was costing the state $17.12 billion in foregone income, lost tax revenues, and increased job training, welfare, unemployment and criminal justice costs. By 1998, 13 years later, the estimated costs were $319 billion. By 2001, 16 years later, the estimated costs of school dropouts is $441 billion. The social and economic costs of the dropout problem in Texas has increased by 26 times the initial estimates.
IDRA has repeatedly called for changes so that schools are held accountable based on the number of students they are graduating. “All students must be valued and accounted for,” summarized Dr. María Robledo Montecel, IDRA’s executive director, and Dr. Albert Cortez, director of the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership (2000).
In the November-December issue of the IDRA Newsletter, Robledo Montecel and Cortez outlined what is needed in order for the state dropout estimates to be credible, specifically:
- Change the definition of who is considered a school dropout to exclude GED, non-verified transfers and other non-verified leavers from high school graduation counts;
- Require reporting of numbers of students graduating with a high school diploma to help verify reported dropout counts; and
- Include longitudinal dropout rates in the state accountability rating systems.
In addition, obviously, there needs to be a new sense of urgency to prevent students from dropping out of school. A review of the research on effective dropout prevention strategies, including IDRA’s own research over the past 16 years, shows that certain components are vital to successful dropout prevention. These components are outlined in IDRA’s policy brief, Missing: Texas Youth – Dropout and Attrition Rates in Texas Public High Schools, as follows (1999):
- All students must be valued.
- There must be at least one educator in a student’s life who is totally committed to the success of that student.
- Families must be valued as partners with the school, all committed to ensuring that equity and excellence is present in a student’s life.
- Schools must change and innovate to match the characteristics of their students and embrace the strengths and contributions that students and their families bring.
- School staff, especially teachers, must be equipped with the tools needed to ensure their students’ success, including the use of technology, different learning styles and mentoring programs. Effective professional development can help provide these tools.
IDRA’s Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program incorporates these components. It has demonstrated that successful dropout prevention can be achieved.
With the value of a high school diploma becoming increasingly more important in opening doors to post-secondary education, career opportunities, and earning power, the economic consequences of leaving school without a high school diploma are exceedingly severe. The goal of ensuring that all students leave our schools with a high school diploma is a worthy goal to accomplish. As accountability standards increase in our state so must our expectations that our students will remain in school receiving a quality education that culminates in the receipt of a high school diploma.
The challenge of increasing the holding power within our public schools and increasing the number and percent of students who receive a regular high school diploma must be undertaken and met by dedicated educators, institutions and families. The bar of excellence must be raised to graduate our students with a quality education and a high school diploma to compete in this global economy.
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. “$319 Billion and 1.2 Million Students Lost,” remarks to the Texas State Board of Education, Committee on Planning (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1999).
Supik, J. and R. Johnson. Missing: Texas Youth – Dropout and Attrition Rates in Texas Public High Schools (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1999).
Texas Education Agency. Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools, 1999-00 (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, Division of Research and Evaluation, August 2001).
U.S. Department of Education. Dropout Rates in the United States: 1999 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, November 2000).
U.S. Department of Education. The Condition of Education 2001 (Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics, June 2001).
Roy L. Johnson, M.S., is the director of the IDRA Division of Evaluation Research. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. 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.]
|Event (Annual) Dropout Rate (percentage of youth ages 15 to 24 who dropped out of grades 10 to 12, October 1998 to October 1999)
|Status Dropout Rate (percentage of youth ages 16 to 24 who were dropouts in 1999)
|Completion Rate (percentage of youth age 18 to 24 who weere high school completers in 1999)
|Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October 1999.