For more than 30 years, the Intercultural Development Research Association has committed to making schools work for all children, especially those children who are historically left behind – low-income students, minority students and those who speak a language other than English. Without a voice, these children often drop out of school, with this state and this country losing its most precious resource.
As the issue of dropout rates and graduation rates escalates from a state -level to a national-level debate with the inclusion of graduation rates mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, this is a good time to look at where the state of Texas has been on this issue and what remains to be done to change course.
Following is a history of the issue in Texas, based on the Texas Education Agency’s State Plan to Reduce the Dropout Rate (2003) and other sources.
A Nation at Risk is published and we learn that education is in critical condition. The study calls for major reforms. (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983)
The Texas Legislature passes House Bill (HB) 72 calling for major changes in Texas schools and a study of the dropout problem and costs.
School districts are required to publish annual performance reports that would inform communities “about the quality of education in their school districts” (Texas Education Agency, 2002). School districts themselves collect data and include aggregate student data only.
IDRA conducts a landmark study commissioned by the Texas Department of Community Affairs and TEA. Texas finds out that it is losing 86,000 students – one third of Texas students – costing the state $17.12 billion.
TEA reports statewide student performance and progress.
The Texas Legislature passes HB1010, making state and school districts responsible for counting and reporting dropouts and finding ways to lower the dropout rate.
TEA is required to establish a dropout information clearinghouse and to work with eight other state agencies to coordinate policies and resources for the dropout problem.
A dropout definition is added: “a student in grades seven through 12 who does not hold a high school diploma or the equivalent and is absent from school for 30 or more consecutive days with no evidence of being enrolled in another public or private school” (Texas Education Code 11.205, 1988).
School districts are required to have one or more “at-risk coordinators” to support students who are deemed at risk of dropping out of school.
The State Board of Education requires districts to have a plan ready by the next year (1988) that would help identify students who are at risk and help them stay in school.
“At risk” is defined (for 7-12 grades). The definition focuses on student failure and “environmental, familial, economic, social, developmental or other psychosocial factors” rather than school holding power and school factors that failed students.
The State Board of Education adopts its first long-range plan for Texas public schools. This four-year plan focuses on closing the achievement gap and lowering the dropout rate.
TEA calculates its own longitudinal dropout estimate and reports that 34 percent of ninth-grade cohort students drop out before graduating – close to IDRA’s 33 percent attrition rate. It also calculates and reports an annual dropout rate of 6.7 percent.
TEA reports a 6.7 percent annual dropout rate.
Dropout data collection begins in 1987-88 with dropout numbers computed directly from school district reports.
TEA reports a 6.1 percent annual dropout rate.
HB850 denies a driver’s license to anyone under 18 years old who does not have a high school diploma or a GED or who was not enrolled in school for at least 80 days the previous semester or enrolled at least 45 days in a high school equivalency program.
SB152 has the State Board of Education reduce the statewide longitudinal dropout rate to 5 percent by 1997-98, meaning that Texas commits to graduating at least 95 percent of its students and following them from seventh grade to 12th grade to make sure Texas lives up to its commitment.
SB1668 expands the “at-risk” definition to include pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. This means that a 4-year-old could be considered “at risk” of dropping out. It also opened the door for alternative education for students who are considered to be “at-risk.” Students could now be removed from regular school settings to “alternative” ones, which results in stigmatizing them and increasing the chances they would drop out.
SB417 increases the amount of time that students had to be in school, lowering the age that a student must begin school from seven to six, and remaining in school until they were 17 instead of 16. And a student had to attend school at least 80 days per semester to receive course credit.
Students under 19 who returned to school and graduated got a “second chance” with a program created through the Office of the Governor, providing tuition credits for higher education to job opportunities.
“At-risk” programs flourish at all grade levels, but almost all focus on “fixing” students or their families rather than on school causes.
Concerns with data quality spur the legislature to create a new school and district rating category named “not rated due to data quality” based on finding that district dropout data submissions are late, missing or unreliable. The number of districts unrated due to data quality declines notably after one year.
TEA reports a 5.1 percent annual dropout rate.
The Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) is established including reporting annual graduation and dropout rates.
Dropout “recovery” begins a statewide search of reported dropouts enrolled in other school districts. “Search” is confined to finding students who re-enrolled in Texas public schools but had been reported as dropouts in the previous year’s dropout reports, with corresponding adjustments made to district counts. Students who indicated that they were re-enrolling in Texas schools but never were accounted for are not used to adjust original district dropout counts.
TEA reports a 3.9 percent annual dropout rate.
TEA begins reporting annual graduation and dropout rates in its Snapshot publication and Pocket Edition highlighting Texas education statistics.
TEA reports a 2.8 percent annual dropout rate.
The “at-risk” list grows and now includes student pregnancy and parenthood.
The legislature adopts Chapter 35 of the Texas Education Code. AEIS data are now to be used to rate school districts and campuses for accountability ratings and targets the dropout rate as a performance indicator.
TEA reviews dropout data from previous years and removes previously reported dropouts from the current year. For example, if “John” dropped out of school in 1990 but re-entered school and dropped out again in 1993, TEA removed “John” from the 1993 list.
TEA does not count expelled students as dropouts if they are expelled for certain school-related offenses and if their term of expulsion has not expired.
TEA does not count students as dropouts if they drop out to receive a GED.
TEA reports a 2.6 percent annual dropout rate.
TEA uses annual dropout rates for grades seven through 12 as an indicator for exemplary and recognized ratings only.
TEA reports a 1.8 percent annual dropout rate.
TEA begins using annual dropout rates for all categories used to rate districts and campuses (exemplary, recognized, acceptable, unacceptable).
The dropout definition is removed from state law and from State Board of Education rules. This opens the door for state dropout count manipulation, with the TEA commissioner given broad discretion in defining and calculating dropouts.
Students who meet all graduation requirements but do not pass the state-mandated exit-level Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) are not counted as dropouts.
Students who withdraw from school to “return to their home country” are not counted as dropouts. Unverifiable transfers to another school are not counted as dropouts.
The State Board of Education can no longer apply rules regarding dropouts or at-risk criteria. School districts can no longer use other possible risk factors. They can only use those listed in the statute and report only those in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).
School districts are no longer required to prepare separate plans to lower the dropout rate. District and campus improvement plans can include dropout prevention plans. Districts are still required to provide compensatory and accelerated instruction to students considered at risk of dropping out.
The state dropout information clearinghouse and interagency task force are eliminated in new state legislation.
TEA is still required to publish annual dropout statistics from data collected from school districts and to develop a state plan to lower the dropout rate.
TEA reports a 1.8 percent annual dropout rate.
TEA considers using a high school “completion rate” instead of dropout rate, as allowed by legislation, which also replaces the graduate with the broader completer category.
Students are now required to attend school until they are 18, raising the required age from 17 established in 1989.
TEA begins using “leaver codes” to undercount dropouts. Over time, the number of leaver codes goes from 37 to 43 to 30. Under fire at the state and national level for unreliable and unbelievable dropout rates, TEA reduces the number of codes by collapsing categories. Nothing changes.
TEA is able to track individual seventh graders through high school using a new student record keeping system.
TEA includes the “actual measures of student progress grades seven through 12 longitudinal dropout rates for the class of 1998” in AEIS.
Money is provided to school districts to focus on dropout prevention at every level: preschool, early elementary, after-school programs for middle schools, and ninth grade.
TEA stops counting all expelled students as dropouts.
HB1144 adds grades nine through 12 “completion” rates. The focus is now on “completers” rather than dropouts.
An annual independent audit of school district data submissions is required in response to widely circulated reports on districts’ data falsification and manipulation of dropout information.
SB702 requires TEA’s annual report to include performance of open enrollment charter schools, which mostly serve students who are deemed at risk as compared to performance of regular school districts.
SB702 also requires a measurable state plan to reduce the dropout rate and changes TEA’s biennial report to an annual report. New dropout rate information that must be reported includes: (a) projected cross-sectional and longitudinal dropout rates for grades nine through 12; (b) dropout rates of students in alternative education programs; and (c) completion rates for students in grades nine through 12.
HB457 does not count students as dropouts if they are in correctional facilities or residential treatment centers and if, when they were released, they do not re-enroll in the district where the facilities are located if that district is not the student’s home district.
TEA develops a state plan to reduce the dropout rate as required by Texas Education Code. The 2001-2005 State Plan to Reduce the Dropout Rate (Texas Education Agency, 2002) contains seven goals:
Adopt high expectations – fundamental premise is that all students can learn and succeed in school.
Strive for teacher and administrator renewal – recruit new, especially minority, teachers and administrators in areas with highest incidences of dropouts.
Eliminate obstacles to student success – eliminate educational policies and practices that are barriers.
Adapt organizational structure – provide learning continuum at all levels to address diverse academic, social and special student needs.
Provide appropriate assessment and instructional strategies – assess student progress ongoingly with multiple measures to inform methods and pacing of instruction.
Establish stakeholder partnerships – foster public school alliances with parents, community-based organizations and businesses.
Identify and support statewide best practices – coordinate between TEA, education service centers and school districts to identify and implement best practices.
TEA reports a 0.9 percent annual dropout rate.
Texas modifies dropout counting procedures to conform to standards of the National Center for Education Statistics, which count as dropouts students enrolled in a GED program, students who meet all graduation requirements but do not pass the state exam and students previously counted as dropouts, among other procedures. These changes will be reflected in the 2005-06 TEA reports.
TEA further refines the state plan. The 2003-2014 Strategic State Dropout Prevention Plan (Texas Education Agency, 2003) presents six goals:
- By 2013-14, all Texas students will graduate from high school.
- By 2002-03, TEA will develop a comprehensive dropout prevention action plan that will be updated on an ongoing basis according to identified needs.
- By 2002-03, TEA will create a dropout prevention center. The center will:
- Identify effective research-based dropout prevention practices and programs;
- Coordinate statewide efforts to provide research-based dropout prevention and reentry dropout program resources and technical assistance;
- Identify and implement with education service centers and other dropout prevention partners state, regional and local professional development activities; and
- Plan and implement ongoing state and regional forums on issues related to dropout prevention.
By 2005-06, all Texas students including those in “high poverty schools” will be taught by “highly qualified” teachers.
By 2006-07, the annual dropout rate for grades seven through 12 and the longitudinal rate for grades nine through 12 will be reduced by 1 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
By 2013-14, all Texas students will reach high standards, attaining proficiency or better in reading and mathematics.
After 23 years, what is next? The state’s education goals for its children and youth remain high – as high as they were 23 years ago. By 1997-98, 95 percent of Texas youth were supposed to be graduating from high school. After all of the state plans, all of the leaver codes, all of the re-calculations, according to IDRA’s attrition estimates, the state of Texas is losing one student every four minutes.
If Texas is to reach its goal of graduating at least 95 percent of its students, then it must change course – from masking the number of dropouts to making each child count, from dropout prevention or recovery to a graduation plan for each student, from dropping out to school holding power, from at-risk students to high school reforms that produce high school graduates.
There are decades of research and experience that point to effective practices and programs, including IDRA’s own Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program for dropout prevention and IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework for school system change. This state knows what to do to make this goal a reality. We just need the collective will to start down a new and more promising road.
Cárdenas, J.A. and M. Robledo Montecel and J. Supik. Texas Dropout Survey Project (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).
National Commission on Excellence in Education. A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for School Reform (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, April 1983).
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).
Texas Education Agency. State Plan to Reduce the Dropout Rate, working document (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, August 2002) pg. 6.
Texas Education Agency. The 2003-2014 Strategic State Dropout Prevention Plan, working document (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, April 2003).
Josie D. Cortez, M.A., is the IDRA design and development coordinator. Albert Cortez, Ph.D., is director of the IDRA Institute for Policy and Leadership. Comments and questions may be directed to them by e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2006, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November – December 2006 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.]