• By Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2007
In its most recent annual attrition study, which examines school holding power in Texas public high schools, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) found that 34 percent of the freshman class of 2003-04 left school prior to graduating from a Texas public high school in the 2006-07 school year. The current statewide attrition rate in Texas remains higher than the initial rate of 33 percent found in IDRA’s landmark 1985-86 study.
With schools losing one of three students from their enrollment prior to graduation with a high school diploma, stakeholders must renew their commitment and efforts to reduce dropout rates and to improve school completion and graduation rates of schools and their students.
This 2006-07 attrition study represents the 22nd study conducted by IDRA and the latest in a series of reports that began in the 1985-86 school year. In 1986, IDRA conducted Texas’ first-ever comprehensive statewide study of high school dropouts using a high school attrition formula to estimate the number and percent of students who leave school prior to graduation. The study in 1986 was the state’s first major effort to assess the school holding power of Texas public schools.
This inaugural study, entitled Texas School Dropout Survey Project was conducted under contract with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the then Texas Department of Community Affairs. It examined three major research questions: (1) What is the magnitude of the dropout problem in the State of Texas? (2) What is the economic impact of the dropout problem for the state? and (3) What is the nature and effectiveness of in-school and alternative out-of-school programs for dropouts in the state?
IDRA’s inaugural study found that 86,276 students had not graduated from Texas public high schools, costing the state $17 billion in forgone income, lost tax revenues, and increased job training, welfare, unemployment and criminal justice costs (Cárdenas, Robledo and Supik, 1986).
Spanning a period from 1985-86 through 2006-07, the IDRA attrition studies have provided time series data, using a consistent methodology, on the number and percent of Texas public school students who leave school prior to graduation. These studies provide information on the effectiveness and success of Texas public high schools in keeping students engaged in school until they graduate with a high school diploma.
The attrition calculations were derived from public school enrollment data in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). During the fall of each year, school districts are required to report information to TEA via the PEIMS for all public school students and grade levels. IDRA’s attrition studies involve an analysis of ninth-grade enrollment figures and 12th-grade enrollment figures three years later. This period represents the time span during which a student would be enrolled in high school.
IDRA collects and uses high school enrollment data from the TEA Fall Membership Survey to compute countywide and statewide attrition rates by race-ethnicity and gender. Enrollment data from special school districts (military schools, state schools and charter schools) are excluded from the analyses, because they are likely to have unstable enrollments or lack a tax base for school programs.
Attrition rates are an indicator of a school’s holding power or ability to keep students enrolled in school and learning until they graduate. Along with other dropout measures, attrition rates are useful in studying the magnitude of the dropout problem and the success of schools in keeping students in school. Attrition, in its simplest form, is the rate of shrinkage in size or number. Therefore, an attrition rate is the percent change in grade level enrollment between a base year and an end year.
Latest Study Results
One of every three students (34 percent) from the freshman class of 2003-04 left school prior to graduating with a high school diploma. The class of 2007 began with 365,857 students. Of these students, 134,676 were lost from public school enrollment between the 2003-04 and 2006-07 school years. (See table.) Numerically, 134,676 students were lost from public high school enrollment in 2006-07 compared to 86,276 in 1985-86.
The overall attrition rate has increased by 3 percent from 1985-86 to 2006-07. The percentage of students who left high school prior to graduation was 33 percent in 1985-86 compared to 34 percent in 2006-07. Over the past two decades, attrition rates have fluctuated between a low of 31 percent in 1988-89, 1989-90 and 1990-91 to a high of 43 percent in 1996-97.
The overall attrition rate was less than 40 percent in 2006-07 for the sixth time in 13 years. For the sixth consecutive year, the overall statewide attrition rate in Texas public schools was less than 40 percent. The current rate of 34 percent compares to 39 percent in 2001-02, 38 percent in 2002-03, 36 percent in 2003-04 and 2004-05, and 35 percent in 2005-06, respectively. After seven consecutive years of overall statewide attrition rates of 40 percent or higher between 1994-95 and 2000-01, the overall statewide attrition rate of 34 percent in 2006-07 was the lowest since a 34 percent rate in 1991-92 and continues a downward trend over the last several years. Between 1994-95 and 2006-07, the overall attrition rate ranged from a low of 34 percent to a high of 43 percent.
The attrition rates of Hispanic students and Black students have either remained unchanged or have worsened since 1985-86. Hispanic students and Black students historically have had much higher attrition rates than White students. In 1985-86 and 2006-07, attrition rates of Hispanic students were the same (45 percent in both 1985-86 and 2006-07). During this same period, the attrition rates of Black students increased by 18 percent (from 34 percent to 40 percent). Attrition rates of White students declined by 26 percent (from 27 percent to 20 percent). Hispanic students have higher attrition rates than either White students or Black students.
From 1985-86 to 2006-07, Native American students, Asian/Pacific Islander students and White students saw a decline in their attrition rates. Native American students had a decline of 20 percent in their attrition rates (from 45 percent to 36 percent), and Asian/Pacific Islander students had a decline of 58 percent (from 33 percent to 14 percent).
The gaps between the attrition rates of White students and Black and Hispanic students are increasing. The gap between the attrition rates of White students and Black students has increased from 7 percentage points in 1985-86 to 20 percentage points in 2006-07. Similarly, during this time period, the gap between the attrition rates of White students and Hispanic students has increased from 18 percentage points in 1985-86 to 25 percentage points in 2006-07. See graph.
The gap between the attrition rates of White students and Native American students has decreased from 18 percentage points in 1985-86 to 16 percentage points in 2006-07. Asian/Pacific Islander students exhibited the greatest positive trend in the reduction of the gap in attrition rates compared to White students. In fact, rates for Asian/Pacific Islander students were 6 percentage points higher than those of White students but now are 6 percentage points lower than those of White students.
Historically, the attrition rates for ethnic minority group members, especially Hispanic students and Black students, have been higher than the overall attrition rates. For the period of 1985-86 to 2006-07, students from ethnic minority groups account for more than two-thirds (69.9 percent) of the estimated 2.7 million students lost from public high school enrollment.
Hispanic students account for 51.0 percent of the students lost to attrition. Black students account for 17.4 percent of all students lost from enrollment due to attrition over the years. White students account for 30.1 percent of students lost from high school enrollment over time. Attrition rates for White students and Asian/Pacific Islander students have been typically lower than the overall attrition rates.
The attrition rates for males have been higher than those of females. Between 1985-86 and 2006-07, attrition rates for males have increased by 6 percent (from 35 percent to 37 percent). Attrition rates for females declined by 6 percent from 32 percent in 1985-86 to 30 percent in 2006-07. Longitudinally, males have accounted for 56.6 percent of students lost from school enrollment, while females have accounted for 43.4 percent.
Texas public schools are failing to graduate one out of every three students. Attrition rates as an indicator in a school holding power index show that the rate was 34 percent overall and higher than 40 percent for Black students and Hispanic students. The overall attrition rate has increased from 33 percent in 1985-86 to 34 percent in 2006-07.
Though the overall attrition rate has remained under 40 percent over the last six years, improving school holding power in Texas schools is still an imperative as many of our schools have failed to keep students in schools through graduation with a high school diploma. The number of students lost from public school enrollment has increased from 86,276 in 1985-86 to 134,676 in 2006-07.
In her Quality School Action Framework, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA’s executive director, 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.
In her testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor earlier this year, Dr. Robledo Montecel presented three primary recommendations for achieving graduation for all students. These recommendations included: (1) at the campus level, strengthen and support school level-change through local accountability teams; (2) fund district-wide efforts that focus on elementary-to-middle and middle-to-high school transition points; and (3) fund the proposed Graduation for All Act and comprehensive efforts that will address the issue of graduation for all students.
Through its collaboration with schools and communities in Texas and other parts of the country, IDRA is working on a number of efforts to improve school holding power. One of these efforts, “Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada,” is emphasizing the accountability of the school in keeping students in school until they graduate with a high school diploma. This initiative includes a school holding portal that contains dropout data that neighborhoods at the local level can use to know what is going on and take action around the issue.
Another of IDRA’s efforts to improve school holding power is the dissemination of the Graduation For All e-newsletter, which provides up-to-date information on dropouts and actions to improve school holding power.
School holding power is an important indicator of a school’s success and the quality of its educational services to students. Improving school holding power in our public schools is not only a Texas issue but also a national imperative since one in three of our nation’s students leave our schools prior to graduating with a diploma. Working together, all stakeholders (school personnel, parents, students, educators, policymakers, researchers, etc.) can make a difference in strengthening school holding power.
Over the next year, IDRA will release a series of additional research reports and briefs on the magnitude and economic and social costs of dropouts. Additionally, IDRA will continue its work with schools and communities to improve their school holding power.
Johnson, R.L. “Little Improvement in Texas School Holding Power: Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2004-05,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2005).
Johnson, R.L. “Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2005-06: Gap Continues to Grow,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2006).
Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework: Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).
Roy L. Johnson, M.S., is director of IDRA Support Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2007, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2007 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.]