• by Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2004 •
For the third straight year, the statewide attrition rate in Texas was less than 40 percent, indicating that school holding power in Texas’ public schools may be improving but is still not satisfactory. The latest attrition study by the Intercultural Development Research Association found that 36 percent of the 2000-01 freshman class left school prior to graduating in the 2003-04 school year.
That compares to 38 percent in 2002-03, 39 percent in 2001-02 and 40 percent in 2000-01 and 1999-00.
IDRA’s latest study of school holding power in Texas found that 139,413 out of 378,158 students from the class of 2004 were lost from public school enrollment between the 2000-01 and 2003-04 school years.
Attrition rates are an indicator of a school’s holding power or ability to keep students enrolled in school and learning until they graduate. 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.
Spanning a 19-year period from 1985-86 through 2003-04, the IDRA attrition studies provide time series data on the number and percent of public school students who leave school prior to graduation.
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.
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).
Between the 1985-86 and 2003-04 school years, more than 2 million students have been lost from public school enrollment costing the state of Texas about $500 billion in forgone income, lost tax revenues, and increased job training, welfare, unemployment and criminal justice costs.
Latest Study Results
During the fall of each year, school districts are required to report information to the Texas Education Agency via the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) for all public school students and grade levels. IDRA’s attrition studies involve the 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 Fall Membership Survey of TEA 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.
Historical statewide attrition rates and numbers of students lost to attrition are categorized by race-ethnicity and by gender. General conclusions from this year’s study follow.
The overall attrition rate has increased by 9 percent from 198586 to 2003-04. The percentage of students who left high school prior to graduation was 33 percent in 1985-86 compared to 36 percent in 2003-04. Over the past 19 years, attrition rates have fluctuated between a low of 31 percent in 1988-89 and 1989-90 to a high of 43 percent in 1996-97.
Numerically, 139,413 students were lost from public high school enrollment in 2003-04 compared to 86,276 in 1985-86.
The overall attrition rate was less than 40 percent in 2003-04 for the third time in 10 years. Between 1994-95 and 2000-01, the overall attrition rate ranged from a low of 40 percent to a high of 43 percent. In 2003-04, the overall attrition rate was 36 percent, representing the lowest rate since 1992-93.
The gaps between attrition rates of Hispanic students and Black students and those of White students have widened since 198586. Hispanic students and Black students historically have had much higher attrition rates than White students. From 1985-86 to 2003-04, attrition rates of Hispanic students increased by 9 percent (from 45 percent to 49 percent). During this same period, the attrition rates of Black students increased by 29 percent (from 34 percent to 44 percent). Attrition rates of White students declined by 19 percent (from 27 percent to 22 percent). Hispanic students have higher attrition rates than either White students or Black students.
From 1985-86 to 2003-04, Native American students, Asian/Pacific Islander students and White students saw a decline in their attrition rates. Native American students had a decline of 7 percent in their attrition rates (from 45 percent to 42 percent), and Asian/Pacific Islander students had a decline of 52 percent (from 33 percent to 16 percent).
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 2003-04, students from ethnic minority groups account for more than two-thirds (68.3 percent) of the estimated 2 million students lost from public high school enrollment.
Hispanic students account for about half (49.5 percent) of the students lost to attrition. Black students account for 17.3 percent of all students lost from enrollment due to attrition over the years. White students account for 31.7 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 200304, attrition rates for males have increased by 14 percent (from 35 percent to 40 percent). Attrition rates for females have increased by 3 percent (from 32 percent to 33 percent). Longitudinally, males have accounted for 56.5 percent of students lost from school enrollment, while females have accounted for 43.5 percent.
See the graphic and the tables entitled: “Longitudinal Attrition Rates in Texas Public High Schools, 1985-86 to 2003-04,” and “2000-01 and 2003-04 Enrollment and 2003-04 Attrition in Texas” for attrition data over time. See tables and the map at right for rates by county.
Though progress is being made, schools across the state and nation are continuing to do a poor job of keeping students in schools and having them graduate with a high school diploma. Though the overall attrition rate has declined by several percentage points in each of the last three years, attrition rates have remained relatively stable. Texas public schools are failing to graduate two out of every five students. Attrition rates as a school holding power index show that the attrition rate has remained near 40 percent.
IDRA attrition analyses show that since the mid-1980s the number and percent of students lost from public school enrollment has increased for the state of Texas. TEA paints another picture. IDRA’s studies show that the overall attrition rate has increased from 33 percent in 1985-86 to 36 percent in 2003-04. The annual number of students lost from public school enrollment has increased from 86,276 in 1985-86 to 139,413 in 2003-04.
TEA studies show that the seventh through 12th grade annual dropout rate has declined from 6.7 percent in 198788 to 0.9 percent in 2002-03, and the number of dropouts has declined from 91,307 students to 17,151 students during this same time period.
In August 2004, TEA reported for the 2002-03 school year an annual dropout rate of 0.9 percent for grades seven through 12 and 1.3 percent for grades nine through 12. For the class of 2003, TEA reported a longitudinal dropout rate of 4.9 percent for grades seven through 12 and 4.5 percent for grades nine through 12. For the 2002-03 school year, TEA reported 17,151 dropouts for grades seven through 12 and 15,665 dropouts for grades nine through 12.
IDRA found that the grade seven through 12 attrition rate in 2003 was 21.3 percent, while the grade nine through 12 attrition rate was 33.6 percent. Beginning in the 2005-06 school year, TEA will routinely calculate dropout and school completion rates using the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) methodologies.
Reducing the dropout rate and increasing the number and percentage of students who complete a high school education are national and state goals. Keeping students in school through graduation and subsequent enrollment in post-secondary education must continue to be a focus.
We must no longer focus our energies on rationalizing away the fact that schools are failing to hold onto hundreds of thousands of students who leave school prior to receiving a high school diploma.
Number of Students Lost to Attrition to Texas School Years 1985-86 to 2002-03
|Figures calculated by IDRA from the Texas Education Agency Fall Membership Survey data.
Rates were not calculated for the 1990-91 and 1993-94 school years due to the unavailability of data. Source: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2004.
Cárdenas, J.A., and M. Robledo, J. Supik. Texas School Dropout Survey Project: A Summary of Findings (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).
Johnson, R.L. “Schools Continue to Lose Students: Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2002-03,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2003).
Johnson, R.L. “Texas Schools Have Weak Holding Power,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2002).
Johnson, R.L. “School Holding Power Goal Unachieved in Texas,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2002).
Robledo Montecel, M. “Texas Needs Diplomas, Not Delusions,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 2002).
Texas Education Agency. Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools: 2002-03 (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, August 2004).
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics. Documentation to the NCES Common Core of Data, Local Education Agency Universe Dropout File: School Year 1999-00.
Roy L. Johnson, M.S., is the director of the IDRA Division of Evaluation Research. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2004, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2004 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.]