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 33 years.

Go to the webpage for latest study from 2018. 

See the news release for the latest study from 2018.

Key Findings from IDRA’s 2017-18 Study

  • The attrition rate in Texas has reached its lowest rate in over three decades: 22 percent in 2017-18
  • One in five freshmen disappears by their senior year.
  • It has taken over three decades to improve by just 11 points
  • We’re losing 11 students every hour.
  • Racial and ethnic gaps are nearly as high as or higher than 33 years ago. Black students and Hispanic students are about two times more likely to leave school without graduating with a diploma than White students.
  • In the last 32 years, Texas schools have lost a cumulative total of more than 3.8 million students from public high school enrollment prior to graduation.
  • IDRA’s analysis shows that, at this rate, Texas will not reach universal high school education for another quarter of a century in 2038. At this rate, we stand to lose another 2.3 million students.
  • 136 counties had improved attrition rates since last year, 85 counties had higher attrition rates and 10 counties remained the same.

Quotes by Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel

  • “Clearly, some school districts are taking steps to improve their school holding power, and their investment in dropout prevention programs and college readiness initiatives is paying off.”
  • “But much of our state leadership has shown a willingness to neglect many of our students and their families by weakening curriculum and graduation requirements and by withholding fair funding that would pay for vital teachers and programs.”
  • Given the demographics in our public schools, Texas cannot afford to educate some students and not others. We cannot continue funding gaps; we cannot put our children in over-crowded classes; we cannot dumb down the curriculum and track our kids into vocational classes; we cannot cut college financial aid; we cannot release schools from their responsibility to provide an excellent education for every child.”
  • “Since this problem is systemic, the solutions must address schools as systems.”



Contact Information

Table of Contents – Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2017-18

See attrition study PDF

  • High School Attrition Rate Drops by Two Percentage Points from Previous Year…3
  • Attrition Rate Reached Lowest Value but Trend Needs to Quicken to Make a Difference …17
  • Three Decades of Groundbreaking Dropout Research – Reflectons by Dr. Robledo Montecel…21
  • 6 Policies that Lead to Higher Dropout Rates…26
  • Timeline for the Class of 2018… 28
  • Infographic: Texas public schools are losing 1 out of 5 students…35
  • College Bound and Determined…36
  • Texas’ Large Economically Disadvantaged Student Population Hit Hard by High School Attrition… 37
  • TEA-Reported Texas School Completion and Dropout Data for 2016-17 – A Virtual Standstill…45
  • Texas Ranks Fifth Nationally in On-Time Graduation Rate… 50
  • Quality School Holding Power Checklist…55
  • A Model for Success…56
  • Taking Action to Hold on to Students… 57
  • Uncompromising Expectations for Graduating All Students….58
  • What We Have Learned…59
  • Types of Dropout Data Defined…60

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 eBook

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 OurSchool data portal 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 50) 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:

  • Zero Tolerance
  • In-grade Retention
  • Low Funding and Insufficient Support for English Learners
  • 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

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.

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 Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program.