• by Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2000 • Roy L. Johnson, M.A.

“Most students who withdraw from a school district are reported to have simply transferred to another school and are not dropping out,” claims the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in a June news release.

The agency released its second report on school leavers, 1997-98 and 1998-99 Returning and Non-Returning Students in Grades 7-12. The report indicates that 98.9 percent of the students who had been enrolled or in attendance in grades seven through 12 in 1998-99 have been accounted for and that the lion’s share of these students simply have enrolled in another school. According to the state education agency, other than graduates (10.9 percent) and dropouts (1.6 percent), 59.7 percent of the students who left school in 1998-99 simply transferred to another school in Texas and 15.2 percent transferred to a school out-of-state.

But this is not the whole story.

Despite the agency’s latest claims that its new school leaver system is accounting for the large number of students lost from enrollment, a review of the data casts serious concerns about the credibility of the state’s dropout counting and reporting system. Most of the school leaver records only indicate a student’s intention to enroll in another school. Records are not verified.

The Texas school accountability system has been touted by some as a model for other states and has been viewed skeptically by others. But there is little doubt that one of the weaknesses of the system is the credibility of the state’s counting and reporting of dropouts. Many people inside and outside of Texas question the 1.6 percent annual dropout rate reported by TEA. (See the box below for TEA dropout counts for the 1996-97, 1997-98, and 1998-99 school years.)

School Leaver Codes: One Side of the Story

Beginning in the 1997-98 school year, Texas school districts have been required to report the reasons that students in grades seven through 12 leave school. In the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) submission each year (October), school districts must report information on every student enrolled in these grade levels using the following choices: (1) the student is enrolled during the current school year, or (2) the student is a leaver and must then be reported on the “leaver record” with at least one departure reason for that student.

During the 1997-98 school year, 37 leaver codes were available to describe the reasons students left school, compared to 41 leaver codes for the following school year. Prior to the collection of these school leaver data, school districts were required to report information on returning students, graduates and dropouts using 22 codes. (See the box below for dropout and leaver codes used in the 1996-97, 1997-98, and 1998-99 school years.)

TEA lists the major findings of the latest school leaver report as follows:

  • School districts submitted 1,875,234 student records for re-enrolled students, graduates, dropouts, and other leavers.
  • School districts could account for 98.9 percent of the students who had been enrolled or were in attendance in grades seven through 12 in 1998-99.
  • Only 1.1 percent of students enrolled or in attendance in grades seven through 12 were under-reported (could not be accounted for), down from 3.6 percent the previous school year.
  • School districts could not account for 21,432 students in 1998-99, compared to 67,841 in 1997-98.
  • Exit reasons were available for 267,503 other leavers. Districts’ reported exit reasons included:

    • 59.7 percent transferred to other Texas schools.
    • 15.2 percent transferred to schools outside Texas.
    • 7.4 percent enrolled in alternative programs.
    • 4.1 percent are home schooled.
    • 3.8 percent received a General Educational Development (GED) certificate.
    • 3.7 percent returned to their home country.
    • 2.9 percent enrolled in a private school.
    • 1.9 percent were incarcerated.
    • 0.9 percent completed course requirements but did not pass the exit-level Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS).
    • 0.3 percent died.
    • 0.2 percent enrolled in college.
  • No school district had more than 1,000 underreported student records in 1998-99 compared to nine school districts that did in 1997-98. Fifty-five school districts had more than 10 percent underreported student records compared to 103 districts who failed to account for more than 10 percent of the students enrolled.
  • The number of districts with no underreported students increased to 317 in 1998-99 from 79 in 1997-98, a 301 percent increase.
  • The number of over-reported student records decreased by 6,209 in 1998-99 from 27,558 in 1997-98, a 77 percent decrease.

Research and analyses by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) and others show that a large number of students are lost from public school enrollment each year. TEA’s school leaver report presents a somewhat rosy picture of the whereabouts of these secondary students.

The Rest of the Story

TEA and IDRA estimates of the number and percent of dropouts were similar in the mid-1980s.

However, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director, reported recently to the Texas State Board of Education, “Unfortunately over the years, the state has pursued a course of trying to define away the dropout numbers – rather than actually decreasing the number of dropouts” (Robledo Montecel, 2000).

This summer, the El Paso Times conducted its own analysis and found that more than 20 percent of Texas students who were reported by TEA as having transferred to other schools in the state could not be verified (Reveles Acosta, 2000). Of 155,867 students reported as state transfers in 1998-99, 32,798 (21 percent) of these students could not be located through the PEIMS. Similar analyses for the 1997-98 school year showed that 33,404 (27 percent) students could not be located. These figures exceed the number of officially reported dropouts (about 26,000 each) of these school years.

Using a data file obtained from TEA’s 1998-99 school leaver report, IDRA has conducted its own analysis of district self-reports on the reasons students leave school. The data file, consisting of 260,638 student records, shows that districts reported as many as three reasons for some students (see the table below). Forty-eight percent or 126,135 of the 260,638 leaver records were reported as unverified transfers to other schools; that is students withdrew or left school with a “declared intent” to enroll in public school.

Only 6,181 of the 260,638 leaver records were coded as “official transfer to another Texas public school district.” A further review of school leaver data shows that the vast majority of the school leaver records are unverified and reported only as “declared intent to enroll in another school” (emphasis added).

Recommendations for Improvement

In written testimony presented to the Texas State Board of Education in September, IDRA presented the following recommendations for making the state dropout counting and reporting system more credible, simple and clear.

Recommendation 1:

The state should maintain the goal as stated in the Texas Education Code: “Through enhanced dropout prevention efforts, all students will remain in school until they obtain a high school diploma” (TEC Section 4.001).

Rationale: The goal of the state of Texas is simply and clearly that all students obtain a high school diploma. In Texas, all must mean all.

Recommendation 2:

The state dropout definition should be amended and simplified by defining a dropout as a student whose re-enrollment or graduation from a high school (diploma-granting school) has not been verified.

Rationale: Much of the current confusion about actual dropout rates is created by the state’s complex process for counting and reporting dropouts. The new school leaver data, with 41 student subcategories, has actually served to further complicate and muddle the process. A streamlined procedure is needed that informs us whether a student who was formerly enrolled in a Texas school actually re-enrolled, has graduated, has dropped out, or whose status is in reality unknown due to lack of verifiable information on actual re-enrollment. Current state reports indicate that the group of “unknown status students” accounts for over one-third of those reported as non-dropouts. Emerging data however, suggest that many of those same students actually never re-enroll in any school.

TEA received a request for verification of the re-enrollment of approximately 120,000 students whom the school leaver system identified as “re-enrolled in another Texas public school.” In response, TEA was unable to account for more than 33,000 of those pupils. In fact, the number of students who disappeared from Texas schools is actually greater than the 26,000 dropouts “officially” reported by the agency in that year. This type of discrepancy weakens the credibility of the Texas dropout reporting system as well as its highly-touted school accountability system by incorporating these highly suspect dropout rates into the state’s current accountability and school rating system.

Recommendation 3:

The state should modify the state dropout reporting system to include fewer major categories, specifically the number of (a) students actually enrolled in a specific graduating class, (b) students in that class who are still enrolled in any public or private high school (diploma-granting institution) or who are verified as home schooled, (c) students known to have dropped out, (d) students who received a GED, and (e) students who completed all requirements but were denied a diploma for not passing the exit-level TAAS.

Rationale: Further confusion and related credibility of the existing state dropout reporting system can be attributed to the complexity that has been built into it by the state agency. With 41 student leaver codes, separating the number of pupils who actually received a regular high school diploma from the myriad of other reporting categories has rendered the new school leaver reporting system even less useful than the one it replaced. The cumbersome school leaver codes can be combined into several major categories that would provide a much clearer picture of students’ statue and enable anyone to calculate rates using these numbers. These new categories would include (a) students actually enrolled in a specified graduating class, (b) students in that class who are still enrolled in any public or private high school (diploma-granting institution) or who are verified as home schooled, (c) students known to have dropped out (this could include a subcategory of the number of students whose re-enrollment or high school graduation cannot be verified), (d) students who received a GED, and (e) students who completed all requirements but were denied a diploma for not passing the exit-level TAAS.

Much of the resistance to modifying dropout reporting procedures lies in the fact that schools and the state agency oppose reporting – as dropouts – students who have enrolled or indicated an intent to enroll in another public or private school but for whom no actual verification of enrollment is easily available. The creation of the “unknown” category allows for this distinction – without automatically assuming that these students actually re-enrolled at a subsequent school. Similarly, by accounting for GEDs in a separate category, the public can distinguish those students who get a high school diploma from those who completed a GED.

A final category would involve those students who have completed all requirements – but who failed to pass the exit-level TAAS. Such students are not reported either as dropouts or high school graduates in the current reporting system. As in the case of GED recipients, the new system would account for these students, further allowing for calculating of dropout and/or completion rates by combining or disaggregating the various subcategories.

Recommendation 4:

The state should require that each 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 structure to monitor the local dropout reporting or intervention. Schools and communities must be directly involved in addressing the issue.

Summary

The need to significantly change the Texas dropout reporting system is reflected in the fact that the U.S. Department of Education and others who report state-level school statistics use their own alternative methods for estimating the Texas dropout rate, due in large measure to concerns with Texas’ existing dropout reporting system.

It is critical that the state update and streamline its own dropout reporting process. Whether referred to as leavers or dropouts, far too many Texas students are leaving our schools without earning their high school diplomas. Dr. Robledo Montecel stated, “We can continue to distort these realities by resorting to tricks like cumbersome definitions and unwieldy reporting and counting systems, or we can simplify the process so that it is both understandable and believable” (2000). Our children and our public need and deserve more of both, for we cannot fix what we do not understand, and we cannot act on what we do not believe.

Texas Education Agency Reported Dropout Rates, by Race-Ethnicity

School Year/Group
7-12th Grade Enrollment
Total Dropouts
Percent of Total Dropouts
Annual Dropout Rates
Estimated Longitudinal Dropout Rate
1996-97

White
African American
Hispanic
Other
Total

 

 

815,175
240,142
603,067
47,588
1,705,972

 

7,894
4,737
13,859
411
26,901

 

 

29.4%
17.6%
51.5%
1.5%
100.0%

 

 

1.0%
2.0%
2.3%
0.9%
1.6%

 

 

5.7%
11.3%
13.0%
5.1%
9.1%

 

1997-98

White
African American
Hispanic
Other
Total

 

828,660
244,987
619,855
49,637
1,743,139

 

 

7,734
5,152
14,127
537
27,550

 

 

28.1%
18.7%
51.3%
1.9%
100.0%

 

0.9%
2.1%
2.3%
1.1%
1.6%

 

 

9.0%
18.9%
20.4%
7.6%
14.7%

 

1998-99

White
African American
Hispanic
Other
Total

 

 

833,274
248,748
638,041
53,054
1,773,117

 

 

7,006
5,682
14,413
491
27,592

 

 

25.4%
20.6%
52.2%
1.8%
100.0%

 

 

0.8%
2.3%
2.3%
0.9%
1.6%

 

 

Not Available
Not Available
Not Available
Not Available
Not Available

 

PEIMS Leaver Codes Used in 1996-97, 1997-98 and 1998-99

Leaver ReasonCode1996-971997-981998-99
Collected TypeCollected Type Collected Type
Graduating01GraduateGraduateGraduate
Deceased03LeaverLeaver
Withdrew, documented enrollment elsewhere in Texas05Leaver
Withdrew/left school, no declared intent, documented enrollment in Texas public school73Leaver
Withdrew/left school, no declared intent, documented enrollment in Texas private school74Leaver
Official transfer to another Texas public school district21LeaverLeaver
Withdrew, documented enrollment out of Texas06LeaverLeaver
Withdrew, declared intent to enroll out of state07LeaverLeaver
Withdrew/left school, declared intent to enroll in a public school28LeaverLeaver
Withdrew/left school, declared intent to enroll in a private school29LeaverLeaver
Withdrew, home schooling60LeaverLeaver
Withdrew/left school to enter college to pursue a degree24DropoutLeaverLeaver
Withdrew/left school, declared intent to enter health care facility30LeaverLeaver
Withdrew/ left school, documented return to home country16DropoutLeaverLeaver
Expelled for criminal behavior17DropoutLeaverLeaver
Incarcerated in a facility outside the boundaries of the district61LeaverLeaver
Completed graduation requirements except for passing TAAS19DropoutLeaverLeaver
Withdrew, alternative programs toward completion of GED/diploma22DropoutLeaverLeaver
District has documented evidence of student completing GED31LeaverLeaver
Received GED previously, returned to school, left again64LeaverLeaver
Graduated previously, returned to school, left again63LeaverLeaver
Removed by Child Protective Services66LeaverLeaver
Withdrawn, failed to provide immunization records67Leaver
Withdrawn by court order for alternative program72Leaver
Withdrawn by school district for non-residence or falsified information62LeaverLeaver
Withdrew/left school to pursue a job02DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school to join the military04DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school because of pregnancy08DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school to marry09DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school due to alcohol or other drug abuse problems10DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school because of low or failing grades11DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school because of poor attendance12DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school because of language problems13DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school because of age14DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew/left school due to homelessness15DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew to enroll in alternative program23DropoutDropoutDropout
Withdrew for alternative program, not in compliance with compulsory attendance70Dropout
Withdrew for alternative program, in compliance with compulsory attendance, no documentation of completing high school or GED71Dropout
Withdrew/left school to enter college, no evidence of pursing degree25DropoutDropoutDropout
Expelled for reasons other than criminal behavior26DropoutDropoutDropout
Has not completed graduation requirements, did not pass TAAS27DropoutDropoutDropout
Failed to re-enroll following JJAEN term65DropoutDropoutDropout
Reason unknown99DropoutDropoutDropout
Source: Texas Education Agency, 1996-97, 1997-98 and 1998-99, Returning and Non-Returning Students in Grades 7-12, May 14, 1999 and June 9, 2000.

School Leaver/Exit Reason in Texas, 1998-99

 

Leaver Reason (Code)
First Reason
Second Reason
Third Reason
All Reasons

 

 

#

 

 

%

 

 

#

 

 

%

 

 

#

 

 

%

 

 

#

 

 

%

 

Withdrew/left school, declared intent to enroll in public school (28) 

126,135

 

 

48.4

 

 

38

 

 

22.1

 

 

7

 

 

41.2

 

 

126,180

 

 

48.4

 

Withdrew, declared intent to enroll out of state (07) 

34,103

 

 

13.1

 

 

42

 

 

24.4

 

 

3

 

 

17.6

 

 

34,148

 

 

13.1

 

Withdrew, alternative programs toward completion of GED/diploma (22)

 

 

19,282

 

 

7.4

 

 

11

 

 

6.4

 

 

1

 

 

5.9

 

 

19,294

 

 

7.4

 

Withdrew/left school, no declared intent, documented enrollment in Texas public school (73)

 

 

19,282

 

 

7.4

 

 

2

 

 

1.2

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

19,284

 

 

7.4

 

Withdrew, home schooling (60)

 

 

10,738

 

 

4.1

 

 

12

 

 

7.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

10,750

 

 

4.1

 

Withdrew/left school, documented return to home country (16)

 

 

9,761

 

 

3.7

 

 

2

 

 

1.2

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

9,763

 

 

3.7

 

Withdrew/left school, declared intent to enroll in a private school (29)

 

 

7,682

 

 

2.9

 

 

13

 

 

7.6

 

 

4

 

 

23.5

 

 

7,699

 

 

3.0

 

District has documented evidence of student completing GED (31)

 

 

7,675

 

 

2.9

 

 

20

 

 

11.6

 

 

2

 

 

11.8

 

 

7,697

 

 

3.0

 

 

Official transfer to another Texas public school district (21)

 

 

6,181

 

 

2.4

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

6,181

 

 

2.4

 

 

Withdrew, documented enrollment out of Texas (06)

 

 

5,995

 

 

2.3

 

 

16

 

 

9.3

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

6,011

 

 

2.3

 

Incarcerated in a facility outside the boundaries of the district (61)

 

 

4,885

 

 

1.9

 

 

9

 

 

5.2

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

4,894

 

 

1.9

 

Completed graduation requirements except for passing TAAS (19)

 

 

2,220

 

 

0.9

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

2,220

 

 

0.9

 

Withdrawn by school district for non-residence or falsified information (62)

 

 

1,499

 

 

0.6

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

1,499

 

 

0.6

 

Withdrew/left school, declared intent to enter health care facility (30)

 

 

1,168

 

 

0.4

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

1,168

 

 

0.5

 

Withdrew/left school, no declared intent, documented enrollment in Texas private school (74)

 

 

862

 

 

0.3

 

 

1

 

 

0.6

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

863

 

 

0.3

 

 

Removed by Child Protective Services (66)

 

 

679

 

 

0.3

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

679

 

 

0.3

 

 

Deceased (03)

 

 

670

 

 

0.3

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

670

 

 

0.3

 

Received GED previously, returned to school, left again (64)

 

 

552

 

 

0.2

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

552

 

 

0.3

 

Expelled for criminal behavior (17)

 

 

489

 

 

0.2

 

 

5

 

 

2.9

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

494

 

 

0.2

 

Withdrew/left school to enter college to pursue a degree (24)

 

 

424

 

 

0.2

 

 

1

 

 

0.6

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

425

 

 

0.2

 

Withdrawn by court order for alternative program (72)

 

 

272

 

 

0.1

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

272

 

 

0.1

 

Graduated previously, returned to school, left again (63)

 

 

76

 

 

0.03

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

76

 

 

0.03

 

Withdrawn, failed to provide immunization records (67)

 

 

8

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

0

 

 

0.0

 

 

8

 

 

0.0

 

 

Total

 

260,638

 

 

100

 

 

172

 

 

100

 

 

17

 

 

100

 

 

260,827

 

 

100

 

 Source: Texas Education Agency, 1997-98 and 1998-99 Returning and Non-Returning Students in Grades 7-12.

Resources

Reveles Acosta, G. “Dropout problem still plagues state,” El Paso Times (July 9, 2000).

Robledo Montecel, M. Texas School Dropout Counting and Reporting – A Need for Credibility, written testimony to the Texas State Board of Education (San Antonio: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2000).

Texas Education Agency. 1996-97 and 1997-98 Returning and Non-Returning Students (Austin: Texas Education Agency, May 14, 1999).

Texas Education Agency. 1997-98 Report on Public School Dropouts (Austin: Texas Education Agency, September, 1999).

Texas Education Agency. 1997-98 and 1998-99 Returning and Non-Returning Students: Press Release (Austin: Texas Education Agency, June 9, 2000).

Texas Education Agency. 1997-98 and 1998-99 Returning and Non-Returning Students in Grades 7-12 (Austin: Texas Education Agency, June 9, 2000).


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 feedback@idra.org.


[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2000 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.]

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