• IDRA Newsletter • January 1999
Missing: Texas Youth – Dropout and Attrition Rates in Texas Public High Schools presents an in-depth look at the dropout issue in Texas. It is presented against a backdrop of the 1986 legislation that mandated schools and the state education agency ensure that at least 95 percent of Texas’ youth receive their high school diplomas. This IDRA policy brief also provides some answers to keeping students in school and recommendations that, if followed, will provide the “real” numbers of students missing from our schools. This, in turn, should compel anyone with a conscience to change the state’s failure rate. The recommendations and key findings are reprinted below.
The following recommendations are based on 12 years of research by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) and others on Texas dropout rates, state and local district identification, counting and reporting procedures.
- Revise the goal of the state dropout program to comply with the mandate: “The goal of the program shall be to reduce the actual statewide longitudinal dropout rate to not more than 5 percent, such that a minimum of 95 percent of any class of students enrolling in Texas public schools will receive their high school diploma.”
- Rationale: The current statewide longitudinal dropout rate does not comply with the legislative mandate.
- Modify state policy requirements so that a “dropout” is defined as follows: “A student is defined as a dropout if the student enrolled in Texas public schools does not receive a high school diploma and for whom the state has no proof of re-enrollment in a school within or outside of Texas that has the authority to grant high school diplomas.” The definition should not include students enrolled in Texas public schools who:
- are enrolled in school-based General Education Development (GED) programs,
- have successfully completed all high school course requirements but have not passed the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test, and
- foreign students who are reported as returning to their home country, but for whom there is no verification of enrollment by a receiving school.
- Rationale: The current dropout definition excludes in the calculation of school dropouts students who receive a GED and students who have failed the TAAS but passed their high school course requirements, as well as students who were thought to have returned to their home country but for whom there is no verification. All of these students do not have a high school diploma and therefore should be defined as dropouts. Exclusion of such students tends to misrepresent and seriously understate the dropout counts.
- Require each public school district in Texas, on a yearly basis, to report to the state education agency the number of students enrolled in Texas public schools who:
- are enrolled in school-based GED programs,
- have successfully completed all high school course requirements but have not passed the TAAS, and
- foreign students who are reported as returning to their home country, but for whom there is no verification.
These students should be reported separately and not be included in the dropout definition.
- Rationale: It is currently difficult to determine exactly how many students fall into these categories and are not receiving their high school diplomas. In addition, the inclusion of these students in the dropout rate tends to overstate the actual high school completion rate in Texas schools.
- Modify the state education agency procedure for computing the actual state longitudinal dropout rate. The following computation is an example of how the rate could be calculated:
The state longitudinal dropout rate is calculated by determining the total number of students enrolled in Texas public schools in seventh grade and subtracting the total number of those same students receiving a high school diploma five years later, excluding students who will not graduate but are still enrolled in the regular school program that leads to acquiring a high school diploma (such as students who were retained or do not have sufficient credits), divided by the number of pupils in the original seventh grade group and multiplying by 100 to determine the percentage.
- Rationale: The current state longitudinal dropout rate is an estimated rate and must be an actual rate.
- Require that each local school district establish local dropout oversight committee(s) or task force(s) including parent representatives, private sector representatives and school staff. These committees should regularly and systematically monitor the dropout identification, counting and reporting process and dropout prevention efforts at their campuses and districts. Such efforts should be part of the regular school program involving regular school staff.
- Rationale: There is currently no local oversight committee to monitor the local dropout reporting or intervention. Schools and communities must be directly involved in addressing the issue.
- Require that the state education agency establish a site monitoring team that is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the statewide dropout data. A trigger mechanism should be developed for the team to review cases where the district attrition rate is more than 10 percent of their reported dropout rate.
- Rationale: There is currently no “trigger mechanism” for reviewing discrepancies in district dropout rates. Limitations in agency review efforts preclude effective oversight and may contribute to gross underreporting.
- Require that the state education agency collect information on the reasons students drop out of school in a way that significantly decreases the number of “unknown” reasons for dropping out. Information should also include data on school-related dropout factors such as school retention rates, school faculty attrition, credentials and experience, and school per-pupil expenditures.
- Rationale: There is currently no information on the reasons students drop out of school for approximately half of those students who are identified as dropouts.
- Require that the state education agency collect and disseminate information on local districts’ dropout prevention and recovery efforts. This should include proven strategies used and evidence of effectiveness in lowering the dropout rate.
- Rationale: Given the high number of dropouts, proven strategies for lowering the dropout rates must be shared across districts.
Findings at a Glance
The latest IDRA attrition findings reveal some alarming facts. Major findings include the following.
- From 1985-86 to 1997-98 more than 1.2 million students have been lost from Texas public schools to attrition.
- Because these students were unable to complete high school, the state of Texas loses $319 billion in foregone income, lost tax revenues and increased criminal justice, welfare, unemployment and job training costs.
- Comparison of IDRA attrition trend data and Texas Education Agency (TEA) dropout estimates differ radically in the assessment of the state’s dropout problem. This difference is not explained merely by differences in calculation procedures.
- Two of every five students (42 percent) enrolled in the ninth grade in Texas public schools during the 1994-95 school year failed to reach and/or complete the 12th grade in the 1997-98 school year.
- One of every two Hispanic students and African American students from the 1994-95 ninth grade class never reached the 12th grade, compared to one of every three White students.
- Racial and ethnic minority group students were more likely than White non-Hispanic students to be lost from public school enrollment. Nearly half of African American students (49 percent) and Hispanic students (54 percent) were lost from public school enrollment between the 1994-95 and 1997-98 school years compared to about 31 percent of White non-Hispanic students. African American students were 1.6 times more likely to be lost from enrollment than were White students, while Hispanic students were 1.7 times more likely to be lost from public high school enrollment than were White students.
- More males than females were lost from public high school enrollment. Between the 1994-95 and 1997-98 school years, more males (45 percent) than females (38 percent) were lost from public high school enrollment.
- The attrition rate was highest in major urban districts (51 percent) and lowest in rural districts (28 percent) in the 1996-97 school year.
- Since 1986 (the 1985-86 to 1997-98 school years), the number of students (ninth grade through 12th grade) lost from public school enrollment has increased. The number of students lost from public school enrollment in Texas has increased from about 86,000 in the 1985-86 school year to about 151,000 in the 1997-98 school year.
- The statewide attrition rate has increased by 27 percent (from 33 percent in the 1985-86 school year to 42 percent in the 1997-98 school year).
For a copy of “Missing: Texas Youth – Dropout and Attrition Rates in Texas Public High Schools,” contact the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership, Dr. Albert Cortez, director, at 210/444-1710 or view the policy brief and related tables on-line at www.idra.org.
Comments and questions may be sent to IDRA via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©1999, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 1999 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.]