IDRA conducted Texas’ first-ever comprehensive statewide study of high school dropouts in 1986. Before then, no one knew the extent of the problem. That study was the state’s first major effort to assess the school holding power of Texas public schools and resulted in state-level policy reforms for the state education agency to count and report dropout data. IDRA is the only organization that has examined Texas attrition rates consistently, with the same methodology, for 35 years.

Go to the webpage for latest study for 2020-21. 

See the news release for the latest study for 2020-21.

Key Findings from IDRA’s 2020-21 Study

  • Texas is failing to graduate one out of every five students – which translates to losing 10 students per hour.
  • The statewide attrition rate is 19%, meaning 19% of the freshman class of 2017-18 left school prior to graduating in the 2020-21 school year.
  • At this rate, Texas will not reach universal high school education for another almost two decades in 2039.
  • Schools are twice as likely to lose Latino students and Black students as white students before they graduate.
  • In the last 33 years, Texas schools have lost a cumulative total of more than 4 million students from public high school enrollment prior to graduation.
  • 125 counties had improved attrition rates since last year, 85 counties had higher attrition rates and 19 counties remained the same.

Quotes by Celina Moreno, J.D.

  • “While the attrition rate did decline, Texas high schools lost over 80,000 students, and racial-ethnic gaps still remain. Federal pandemic response funding for school programming provides an opportunity to implement programs and strategies that work.”
  • “The investments of some school districts in dropout prevention and college readiness initiatives are making a difference in supporting students through graduation and beyond. But much of our state leadership has instead shown a willingness to neglect many of our students and their families by weakening curriculum and graduation requirements, censoring classrooms and books, and withholding fair funding that would pay for vital teachers and programs.”



Contact Information

Table of Contents – Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2020-21

See attrition study PDF

  • Texas Reaches All-Time Low Attrition Rate but Still Loses Over 80,000 Students from its High Schools… 3
  • Attrition Rate Forecast Predicts Loss of Almost 2 Million More Students… 17
  • Celebrating Roy Johnson’s Retirement, IDRA Research and Evaluation Director… 20
  • Infographic: Texas public schools are losing 1 out of 5 students… 21
  • Life and Times of the Class of 2021… 22
  • How the Pandemic May Impact the Six School Policies and Practices that Lead to Higher Dropout Rates… 29
  • Texas Education Agency Reported Dip in Dropout Rates as the COVID-19 Pandemic Began… 32
  • Texas’ National Ranking in On-Time Graduation Rate Slips from Fifth to Eighth… 39
  • Taking Action to Hold on to Students… 44
  • College Bound and Determined… 45
  • IDRA Valued Youth Partnership… 46
  • Types of Dropout Data Defined Infographic   48

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

eBook: Types of Dropout Data Defined – See eBookSee Infographic

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.”

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 data dashboard and in TEA’s secondary school completion and dropouts reports.

How do 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 in IDRA’s latest study (Page 39) showing the latest comparison.

What factors lead to higher attrition and dropout rates?

A number of school policies and practices do not work as intended and can, rather, lead to losing students prior to graduation. IDRA identified six such policies and practices:

  • Exclusionary discipline
  • In-grade retention
  • Low funding and insufficient support for emergent bilingual students
  • Unfair and in­sufficient funding
  • Watered-down, non-college prep curricula
  • Testing that is high-stakes

See IDRA’s infographic for more info: 6 School Policies that Lead to Higher Dropout Rates and see the article in the 2020-21 study that factors in COVID-19.

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% (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 a 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.

IDRA’s report, College Bound and Determined, shows 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.

Learn about effective dropout prevention: IDRA Valued Youth Partnership program.