• by Roy Johnson, M.S• IDRA Newsletter • October 1996 • Roy L. Johnson, M.A.

Are school dropout rates declining or increasing in Texas? That is the question.

Some people say that dropout rates (and consequently the number of students dropping out of school) have declined dramatically over the past eight years. Relying on self­ reported data from school districts across the state, the Texas Education Agency reports that the number and percent of dropouts have declined steadily between 1987­-88 and 1994­-95:

  • The reported number of dropouts declined from 91,307 in 1987­-88 to 29,918 in 1994-­95.
  • The annual dropout rate declined from a rate of 6.7 percent in 1987­-88 to a rate of 1.8 percent in 1994-­95 (TEA, 1996).

Recent analyses by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) of the number of students lost from public school enrollment prior to graduation show, however, a drastically different picture on the status of public school dropouts. Despite the many dropout initiatives and the success of some efforts, IDRA’s analyses of statewide and county enrollment data show that the percent of students lost from enrollment has been increasing during these last few years.

In 1986, IDRA conducted the first comprehensive study of school dropouts in Texas (Cárdenas, et al, 1986). IDRA has continued to conduct its own attrition analyses since then to monitor the status of school dropouts in the state. Our latest analyses for the 1995­-96 school year show that the percent of students lost from public school enrollment increased from 33 percent in 1985-­86 to 42 percent in 1995-­96. Nearly 135,000 students were lost from enrollment prior to graduation in the 1995-­96 school year.

Major Findings of the Attrition Analyses

IDRA’s attrition study involved the analysis of enrollment figures for public high school students in the ninth grade during the 1992-­93 school year and in the 12th grade in 1995-­96. This period represents the time span that a ninth grade student in 1992­-93 would be enrolled in school prior to graduation.

During the 1992­-93 school year, there were 293,807 students enrolled in the ninth grade in Texas. Of this number, 0.2 percent were Native American, 2.1 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 15.0 percent were Black or African American, 36.4 percent were Hispanic, 46.2 percent were White.

The total high school enrollment (grades nine through 12) was 906,288. Of these students, 0.2 percent were Native American, 2.5 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 13.7 percent were African American, 32.9 percent were Hispanic, and 50.6 percent were White.

Three years later, during the 1995­-96 school year, enrollment at the 12th grade level consisted of 186,013 students. Of this number, 0.2 percent were Native American, 3.1 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 13.1 percent were African American, 30.1 percent were Hispanic, and 53.5 percent were White.

High school enrollment (grades nine through 12) consisted of 989,610 students. Of these students, 0.2 percent were Native American, 2.6 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 14.1 percent were African American, 33.7 percent were Hispanic, and 49.4 percent were White.

Statewide and county attrition rates are presented for the three major race­-ethnicity groups on pages 5 and 6. Some of the major findings of the study are summarized below.

  • The rate of attrition has increased by 27 percent over the 11-­year study period. The rate of attrition increased from 33 percent in 1985-­86 to 42 percent in 1995-­96.
  • The number of students lost from public high school enrollment has increased from 1985-­86 to 1995­-96. The number of students (in grades nine through 12) lost from enrollment increased from about 86,000 in 1985-­86 to about 134,800 in 1995­-96.
  • When adjusted for population size, ethnic minority group students were more likely to be lost from school enrollment than were White non­Hispanic students. Hispanic and African American students were 1.7 times more likely to be lost from enrollment than were White students. Native American students were 1.4 times more likely to be lost from public school enrollment than were White students. Asian/Pacific Islander students were 1.7 times less likely to be lost from public school enrollment than were White students.
  • More males than females were lost from public school enrollment. For the 1995­-96 school year, the attrition rate for males was 45 percent as compared to 39 percent for females.


Just when many people are saying that things are looking up regarding dropout statistics, IDRA calls for the continuance of dropout prevention strategies, including the maintenance and analyses of dropout statistics.

Some now say that dropout statistics should be excluded as an indicator from the accountability standards. They believe somehow that the dropout dilemma has gone into remission and should be ignored as an indicator of school performance. Some suggest that the dropout indicator be dropped from the statewide accountability system and replaced by graduation rates.

Regardless of what types of data one uses, it is obvious that the collection and monitoring of dropout statistics must be continued, particularly in light of a recently released state audit that casts doubt on the accuracy and reliability of the Texas Education Agency’s dropout data bases. It is premature to even suggest that the dropout problem has been remedied or is even close to being remedied. Continued focus on the development and implementation of successful dropout prevention initiatives is still an imperative for Texas and the rest of the nation.

For more information on current dropout definitions in Texas, how the dropout rate is calculated or IDRA’s attrition model, see “IDRA’s Latest Attrition Analyses Show Worsening Dropout Problems,” by Roy Johnson, MS, in the IDRA Newsletter, October 1995.

Audit Reports TEA Drop Out Measure is Inaccurate

A performance audit of the Texas Education Agency has found that the agency’s dropout measures are inaccurate. The audit was performed by the Office of the State Auditor. The July 1996 report, An Audit Report on Performance Measures at 20 State Agencies and One Educational Institution, states that dropout data reported by the school districts in Texas were incorrect and that “the agency does not have adequate controls to prevent or detect school district errors.” Auditors also reported follow-up results of previous audits and stated that TEA’s methodology for collecting the dropout data is in compliance with the measure definition agreed upon with the Legislative Budget Board. A February 1995 audit report had stated that the system used to report the dropout measure did not conform to the correct definition.

The purpose of the audit was to determine whether or not selected state entities are accurately reporting their key performance measures to the Automated Budget and Evaluation System of Texas (ABEST) II data base. Auditors also determined whether or not the state entities have adequate control systems in place over the collection and reporting of their performance measures.


Cárdenas, J.A., M. Robledo Montecel and J. Supik. Texas School Dropout Survey Project: A Summary of Findings (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).

Texas Education Agency (TEA). 1994-­95 Report on Public School Dropouts (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, August 1996).

Roy Johnson, MS, is a senior research associate in the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 1996 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.]