• by Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2016
The overall high school attrition rate in Texas inched up by one percentage point from 24 percent in 2014-15 to 25 percent in 2015-16. IDRA’s latest annual attrition study shows that, for the first time since 1995-96 to 1996-97, the overall attrition rate in Texas has increased following 18 years of rates that either declined or held constant from one year to the next. (The overall attrition rate increased from 42 percent in 1995-96 to 43 percent in 1996-97). This year’s increase was not unexpected as the forecast models by IDRA’s Dr. Felix Montes predicted that the attrition rate would increase to up to 26 percent before resuming its downward trajectory (2015).
This year’s study is the 31st in a series of annual reports on trends in dropout and attrition rates in Texas public schools. It shows that high school attrition rates in Texas have declined from 33 percent three decades ago to 25 percent in 2015-16. Despite this one point increase, recent trends in attrition rates for Texas public high schools continue to reflect a positive outlook for the total high school population and for most race-ethnicity and gender groups. Since conducting the first comprehensive study of school dropouts in Texas in 1985-86, IDRA has conducted attrition analyses to assess schools’ abilities to hold on to their students until they graduate.
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. In simplest terms, attrition is defined as shrinkage in size or number; therefore, an attrition rate is the percent change in grade level between a base year and an end year.
In this year’s study that examines school holding power in Texas public high schools through an attrition analysis, IDRA found that 25 percent of the freshman class of 2012-13 left school prior to graduating in the 2015-16 school year. This statewide attrition rate of 25 percent is 8 percentage points lower than the initial rate of 33 percent found in IDRA’s landmark 1985-86 study. The rate is 24 percent lower than the 1985-86 rate.
For each racial and ethnic group, the study found that attrition rates today are lower than in the first study three decades ago. Attrition rates of Hispanic students declined by 31 percent (from 45 percent to 31 percent). During this same period, the attrition rates of Black students declined by 21 percent (from 34 percent to 27 percent). Attrition rates of White students declined by 44 percent (from 27 percent to 15 percent). Attrition rates of male students declined by 23 percent (from 35 percent to 27 percent), while the attrition rates of female students declined by 31 percent (from 32 percent to 22 percent).
As in recent studies, the positive trends in attrition rates overall are not without some areas of concern. First, the gaps between the attrition rates of White students and Hispanic students and of White students and Black students continue to be about the same or higher than 30 years ago. Between White students and Hispanic students, the attrition rate gap was 16 percentage points in 2015-16. The attrition rate gap between White students and Black students almost doubled from 7 percentage points in 1985-86 to 12 percentage points in 2015-16.
Second, some subgroups, including Black students and White students, experienced a one percentage point increase in attrition rates from 2014-15 to 2015-16. Attrition rates of Black students increased from 26 percent in 2014-15 to 27 percent in 2015-16. Attrition rates of White students increased from 14 percent in 2014-15 to 15 percent in 2015-16.
The full study will soon be available on IDRA’s web site at www.idra.org and includes methodology, historical statewide attrition rates and numbers of students lost to attrition categorized by race-ethnicity and by gender, a county-level attrition rate table, trend data by county, and historical county-level numbers of students lost to attrition. (Update: The study is now available online.)
Key findings of the latest study include the following.
- Texas public schools still are failing to graduate one out of every four students. One out of every four students (25 percent) from the freshman class of 2012-13 left school prior to graduating with a high school diploma.
- A total of 102,610 students from the 2012-13 freshman class were lost from public high school enrollment in 2015-16 compared to 86,276 in 1985-86.
- For the class of 2015-16, Hispanic students and Black students are about two times more likely to leave school without graduating than White students.
- In three decades, the overall attrition rate declined from 33 percent in 1985-86 to 25 percent in 2015-16.
- The overall attrition rate has been less than 30 percent in the last seven study years: 29 percent in 2009-10, 27 percent in 2010-11, 26 percent in 2011-12, 25 percent in 2012-13, 24 percent in both 2013-14 and 2014-15, and 25 percent in 2015-16.
- In three decades, attrition rates of Hispanic students declined by 31 percent (from 45 percent to 31 percent). During this same period, the attrition rates of Black students declined by 21 percent (from 34 percent to 27 percent). Attrition rates of White students declined by 44 percent (from 27 percent to 15 percent).
- The attrition gap between White students and Hispanic students was 18 percentage points in 1985-86 compared to 16 percentage points in 2015-16.
- The attrition gap between White students and Black students was 7 percentage points in 1985-86 compared to 12 percentage points in 2015-16. The gap between White students and Black students increased by 71 percent from 1985-86 to 2014-15.
- Since 1986, Texas schools have lost a cumulative total of more than 3.6 million students from public high school enrollment prior to graduation.
- The attrition rates for males have been higher than those of females. In the class of 2015-16, males were 1.2 times more likely to leave school without graduating with a diploma than females.
- From 1985-86 to 2014-15, attrition rates of male students declined by 23 percent (from 35 percent to 27 percent), while the attrition rates of female students declined by 31 percent (from 32 percent to 22 percent).
A supplemental analysis by IDRA education associate, Felix Montes, Ph.D., using linear regression models predicts that at the current pace Texas will not reach an attrition rate of zero until the year 2034-35.
In addition to IDRA’s attrition analysis, the full report includes an analysis of the TEA’s latest dropout report and the latest federal data across states. These and other resources are available at www.idra.org/research_articles/attrition-dropout-rates-texas/.
Johnson, R. “Texas High School Attrition Rates Stall,” Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2014-15 (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2015).
Montes, F. “Elusive Zero Attrition Rate is at Least 20 Years Away: Texas Stands to Lose 2 Million More Students,” Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2014-15(San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2015).
Roy L. Johnson, M.S., is director of research at IDRA. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2016, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2016 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.]