DALLAS, Texas — No sooner did the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announce record-breaking on-time high school graduation rates of 88 percent for the Class of 2013 did the criticism of those results begin, prompting the agency to put out a video better explaining the numbers and the accountability system behind them.
On August 5, Education Commissioner Michael Williams applauded Texas high school students for coming in 0.3 percentage points higher than the Class of 2012, marking the sixth consecutive year that the graduation rate has steadily increased.
According to a TEA news release, rankings have inched up since 2007, when the graduation rate was 78 percent. Rates continued to climb: 79.1 percent (2008), 80.6 percent (2009), 84.3 percent (2010), 85.9 percent (2011), to 87.7 percent (2012).
“Out of 328,584 students in the Class of 2013 Grade 9 cohort, 88 percent graduated. An additional 4.6 percent of students in the Class of 2013 continued in high school the fall after their anticipated graduation date and 0.8 percent went on to receive GED certificates,” according to the release.
Williams said, “The Class of 2013 continues an ongoing trend of success in the classroom which has translated into more high school diplomas.”
However, Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, an education policy advocate, disputed TEA’s graduation results, telling the Texas Tribune that in looking at the “raw data” from the grade 9 cohort, “the graduation rate is closer to 72, 73 percent.”
Alluding to data manipulation, a common criticism of what happens when data is coded and repeatedly grouped and mined, Hammond called the TEA’s Class of 2013 high school graduation rate “so far removed from reality it is Orwellian in nature.”
All the findings are in the report “Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public School, 2012-13.” Graduation highlights include “all time highs” in rates for Hispanic (85.1 percent) and African-American (84.1 percent) students. Asian students displayed the highest graduation rate of 93.8 percent, Caucasian students posted the next highest graduation rate at 93 percent, and broken down, girls did alarmingly better than boys, 90.3 percent over 85.9 percent. Economically disadvantaged students came in at 85.2 percent which was a 0.1 percent point up from 2012. TEA pointed out that this number has come up significantly since 2007 when it was 68.8 percent.
All students were tracked by a “Grade 9 cohort.” A cohort is a group of people who share common characteristics within a time frame that is being tracked longitudinally to assess a group based on a set of shared variables. In this case, students were followed from grades 9-12.
Breitbart Texas reported on cohort tracking through the TEA’s longitudinal database Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS), which collects student information following federal procedures that determine high school graduation rates under an untold number of codes.
The US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the federal entity with primary responsibility for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the United States, according to TEA. The tracked data is used to assess education outcomes (i.e., graduation and dropout rates). It’s also a part of the federal accountability reporting requirement under the No Child Left Behind waiver (a.k.a ESEA Flexibility).
Data-collection and tracking are hot buttons for Fed Led Ed opponents, the high-stakes testing opt-out movement, and those who want to stop Common Core nationally.
Hammond also pointed out that despite what was reported, not all student withdrawals were counted toward the overall graduation rates. While moving out of state or transferring to private or home school are tracked, it creates a system, that can allow schools to hide the number of students who drop out, he also commented in the Texas Tribune article.
Still, the TEA release stated that in 2003, the 78th Texas Legislature passed legislation requiring dropout rates be computed according to the NCES dropout definition, adding that a dropout “is defined as a student who is enrolled in public school in Grades 7-12, does not return to public school the following fall, is not expelled, and does not graduate, receive a GED certificate, continue school outside the public school system, begin college, or die.
The report also accounted for 50,000 of 360,000 of the original Grade 9 cohort who left the public education system during that period for reasons “other than graduating, receiving GED certificates or dropping out.”
Another 5,000 students are simply unaccounted for because of missing records or misreported student identification information, according to the Texas Tribune article.
The Grade 9 longitudinal dropout rate for the Class of 2013 cohort was at 6.6 percent, which was an increase of 0.3 percentage points from 2012, showing Asian students at 3.0 percent, white students at 3.5 percent, Hispanic students at 8.2 percent and black students at 9.9 percent.
The report also broke down the broader grade 7-12 Texas public school population for the 2012-13 school year finding 1.6 percent were reported to have dropped out that year, a decrease of 0.1 percentage points from the previous school year.
In response to achievement gaps, Williams stated “As a state, we continue making progress in our shared goal of educating every student. While the graduation trend continues to be strong, these figures also tell us there is still more work to do.”
The Dallas Morning News also took a swipe at the TEA’s method of calculating graduation rates, claiming that “the vast majority of the ratings factors remain various ways to analyze the state standardized test data.”
College and Career Readiness Standards also play its role in state and federal accountability reporting measures, although more non-STAAR factors are being added, according to a TEA viewer friendly animated video to simplify “the secret formula” of accountability released on August 6.
Perhaps in response to the high school graduation rate criticisms or in anticipation of new ones as TEA gears up to unveil accountability ratings systems results, this one minute, forty one second You Tube video demystifies graduation rates through four categories: student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps, and post-secondary readiness.
It is next to impossible for the average human being to understand mysterious school funding formulas, school rankings and graduation rates. Thus, each animated point had its easy answer delivered through pleasant tones of Mr. Nice Guy’s voice. He told the viewer that student progress didn’t include “marching band or school spirit” but the state’s high-stakes STAAR test scores was just a way to “fairly evaluate how all kids are doing on the same test in all parts of our state.”
Gaps were presented as performance issues regardless of student “background or ethnicity” and post-secondary readiness was high school graduation rates, the focus of the TEA announcement. Those non-STAAR measurements were high school dual credit classes on the college ready front and “career-tech” for the direct-to-workforce crowd.
Badges were the “distinctions” a school could achieve by meeting the standard; blue ribbons for little things like “getting kids to take the SAT or ACT,” the college entrance exams that are already or in the process of Common Core alignment, according to College Board president David Coleman.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.