• by Roy Johnson, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • October 1997
The 10th annual attrition study conducted by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) reveals some alarming facts.
- Four of every 10 students enrolled in the ninth grade in Texas public schools during the 1993-94 school year failed to reach the 12th grade in 1996-97.
- Of the 1993-94 ninth grade class, 43 percent were lost from public school enrollment between the 1993-94 and the 1996-97 school years.
- One of every two Hispanic and African American students from that ninth grade class failed to reach the 12th grade, as compared to one of every three White students.
Since 1986, IDRA has conducted an annual attrition study to track the number and percent of students in Texas who are lost from public school enrollment prior to graduation from high school. IDRA gained the distinction of conducting the first comprehensive study of school dropouts in Texas when it released its initial study in October 1986, which led to the creation of the state law that requires the state education agency to include dropout data in its accountability system (Cárdenas, et al., 1986). IDRA has continued its attrition analyses using the same theoretical and mathematical framework to monitor the status of school dropouts in the state of Texas.
The analyses also serve as a check-and-balance system for the reporting of dropout rates, rates that the state education agency and local school districts claim have declined over the years. Despite the reported lower dropout rates and the recommendation by these entities to remove dropout rates from the state’s accountability system, the attrition data by IDRA indicate increasingly high numbers of students who are lost from public school enrollment between the ninth and 12th grades.
Major Findings of the Attrition Analyses
IDRA’s 1996-97 attrition study involved the analysis of enrollment figures for public high school students in the ninth grade during the 1993-94 school year and students enrolled in the 12th grade three years later. This period represents the time span during which a ninth grade student would be enrolled in school prior to graduation.
Enrollment data from the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) Fall Membership Survey for the 1993-94 and 1996-97 school years were utilized for the study. 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 (see the statewide enrollment and attrition data table).
Longitudinal statewide attrition rates are categorized by race and ethnicity. Statewide and county attrition rates are presented for the three major race and ethnicity groups.
Data from the 1993-94 and 1996-97 school years revealed the following:
- Ethnic minority group students were more likely than White, non-Hispanic students to be lost from public school enrollment. Over half of African American students (51 percent) and Hispanic students (54 percent) were lost from public school enrollment between 1993-94 and 1996-97 compared to about 32 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 than were White students to be lost from public high school enrollment.
- More males than females were lost from public high school enrollment. Between 1993-94 and 1996-97, more males (46 percent) than females (40 percent) were lost from public high school enrollment.
Examining data from the entire 12-year study period, 1985-86 to 1996-97, IDRA has found that:
- The number of students lost from public school enrollment has increased. The number of students (in grades nine through 12) lost from public school enrollment in Texas has increased from about 86,000 in 1985-86 to about 147,000 in 1996-97.
- The statewide rate of attrition has increased by 30 percent. The rate of attrition increased from 33 percent in 1985-86 to 43 percent in 1996-97.
Recent national studies have shown that far too many students are dropping out of school prior to graduation, particularly racial and ethnic minority students. Many reports show that despite the success of some dropout initiatives in some areas and the resultant increase in the number of students graduating from high school, the dropout picture remains troublesome.
In Texas, many state and district officials claim that the high (or “unacceptable”) dropout rate is a thing of the past. The truth is, however, that more than 300,000 students were enrolled in the ninth grade in 1993-94 and only about 195,000 students were enrolled in the 12th grade in 1996-97. So the whereabouts of about 147,000 students from the 1993-94 ninth grade class is unknown.
The mystery of their whereabouts cannot be swept under the rug. Continued attention needs to be placed on keeping our students in school and in ensuring they graduate.
Cárdenas, J.A. and M. Robledo Montecel and J. Supik. Texas Dropout Survey Project (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).
Roy Johnson is a senior research associate in the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation. Comments and questions may be directed to him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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