• by Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2008 •
The ability of Texas public high schools to keep students in school until they graduate is no better than 23 years ago, according to the latest attrition study by the Intercultural Development Research Association. In its most recent annual attrition study that examines school holding power in Texas public high schools, IDRA found that 33 percent of the freshman class of 2004-05 left school prior to graduating in the 2007-08 school year. While declining one percentage point each year recently, the statewide attrition rate is the same as it was found to be in IDRA’s landmark 1985-86 study.
A supplemental analysis indicates that, based on one statistical scenario of Texas attrition rate history, the state will not reach an attrition rate of zero until 2044. At this pace, the state will lose an additional 2.6 million students. (Montes, 2008)
This 2007-08 attrition study represents the 23rd 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 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 2007-08, 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.
Historical statewide attrition rates are categorized by race-ethnicity and by gender (see longitudinal attrition rate table and enrollment data table). County-level data are provided on map at right and on attrition rate table. In addition, trend data by county is provided via IDRA’s web site at www.idra.org. IDRA is including online historical county-level numbers of students lost to attrition. See box for statewide historical numbers and the graph below for historical rates. General conclusions from this year’s study follow.
Latest Study Results
One of every three students (33 percent) from the freshman class of 2004-05 left school prior to graduating with a high school diploma.
The class of 2008 began with 373,712 students. Of these students, 132,815 were lost from public school enrollment between the 2004-05 and 2007-08 school years (see enrollment table). Numerically, 132,815 students were lost from public high school enrollment in 2007-08 compared to 86,276 in 1985-86.
The overall attrition rate of 33 percent was the same in 2007-08 as it was more than two decades ago.
The percentage of students who left high school prior to graduation was 33 percent in both 1985-86 and 2007-08. 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 2007-08 for the seventh time in 14 years.
For the seventh consecutive year, the overall statewide attrition rate in Texas public schools was less than 40 percent. The current rate of 33 percent compares to 39 percent in 2001-02, 38 percent in 2002-03, 36 percent in 2003-04 and 2004-05, 35 percent in 2005-06, and 34 percent in 2006-07. After seven consecutive years of overall statewide attrition rates of 40 percent or higher between 1994-95 through 2000-01, the overall statewide attrition rate of 33 percent in 2007-08 was the lowest since a 34 percent rate in 1991-92 and 2006-07, 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 widened since 1985-86.
Hispanic students and Black students historically have had much higher attrition rates than White students. From 1985-86 to 2007-08, attrition rates of Hispanic students declined by 2 percent (from 45 percent to 44 percent). During this same period, the attrition rates of Black students increased by 12 percent (from 34 percent to 38 percent).
Attrition rates of White students declined by 33 percent (from 27 percent to 18 percent). Hispanic students have higher attrition rates than either White students or Black students.
From 1985-86 to 2007-08, Native American students, Asian/Pacific Islander students, Hispanic students and White students saw a decline in their attrition rates. Native American students had a decline of 16 percent in their attrition rates (from 45 percent to 38 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 2007-08. 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 26 percentage points in 2007-08. See graph.
The gap between the attrition rates of White students and Native American students has increased from 18 percentage points in 1985-86 to 20 percentage points in 2007-08.
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 4 percentage points lower than those of White students.
Historically, the attrition rates for Hispanic students and Black students have been higher than the overall attrition rates.
For the period of 1985-86 to 2007-08, students from ethnic minority groups account for more than two-thirds (70.4 percent) of the estimated 2.8 million students lost from public high school enrollment.
Hispanic students account for 51.5 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 29.6 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 of males have been higher than those of females.
Between 1985-86 and 2007-08, attrition rates for males have increased by 3 percent (from 35 percent to 36 percent). Attrition rates for females declined by 9 percent from 32 percent in 1985-86 to 29 percent in 2007-08. Longitudinally, males have accounted for 56.7 percent of students lost from school enrollment, while females have accounted for 43.3 percent of students lost.
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 33 percent overall and near 40 percent for Black students and Hispanic students. The overall attrition rate has remained at 33 percent in 1985-86 and 2007-08.
Though the overall attrition rate has remained under 40 percent over the last seven 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 132,815 in 2007-08.
In a written statement presented to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, entitled “Graduation for All: A Framework for Policy and Action” in September 2008, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA’s President and CEO, offered four primary recommendations on how communities and schools can work together to strengthen public schools’ capacities to improve their holding power. These recommendations included: (1) count every student to make sure every student counts; (2) tend to the transition points; (3) spur school-level action around a Quality Schools Action Framework (see Page 4); and (4) invest in school holding power.
IDRA is working on a number of efforts to improve school holding power through its collaboration with schools and communities in Texas and other parts of the country. One of these efforts, “Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada,” emphasizes the accountability of the school in keeping students in school until they graduate with a high school diploma. This initiative includes a school holding power 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 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 (i.e., schools, parents, students, educators, policymakers, researchers) can make a difference in strengthening school holding power.
Cárdenas, J.A., and M. Robledo Montecel, J. Supik. Texas Dropout Survey Project (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).
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).
Johnson, R.L. “Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2006-07: Texas School Holding Power Worse than Two Decades Ago,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2007).
Montes, F. Will the Student Attrition Rate Ever Drop to Zero?, supplemental analysis published online only (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2008).
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 via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2008, IDRA. The following article originally appeared in the October 2008 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.]