Texas High School Grad Rates: What Does it Mean to be Number Two?

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The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) recently released statistics detailing state-by-state graduation rates in 2012-13.  This is the primary federal entity that collects, analyzes, and reports data related to education nationwide. In their findings, the Texas Class of 2013 graduated at a rate of 88 percent, outpacing the national average of 81 percent.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) reported that the Lone Star state tied with Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota and Wisconsin for the nation’s number two high school graduation slot. Only Iowa at 90 percent posted a higher graduation rate for the Class of 2013. The agency also highlighted that it was the third consecutive year that the state’s high school graduation rate eclipsed the national average.

What does it mean to be number two?

Nationwide, schools calculate high school graduation rates using a metric called the adjusted cohort graduation rate instituted by the USDE for “accurate and uniform comparison” among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. According to the TEA, this has been done this way since 2010.

The concept of “cohorts” was introduced in 2005 by the National Governors Association (NGA), the non-profit organization which has come under sharp criticism as the copyright co-owner of the Common Core State Standards. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is the other Common Core copyright owner.

In 2008, the federal government adopted NGA’s formula and mandated that states calculate these rates beginning with 2011 graduates. Nationwide, these state longitudinal data-base (SLDB) studies were authorized through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which is better known as NCLB once Congress amended and reauthorized the act in 2000.

The NGA recently piped up on the proposed Student Success Act (HR 5) that may replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), asserting that “when Congress reauthorizes NCLB, the law should allow states to ‘align’ education with the needs of businesses in order to bolster workforce development,” Breitbart News reported.

By definition, a cohort is “a group of people put together or treated as a group.” In this case, those people are students or classmates who learn from the same curriculum to achieve the same goal — a high school diploma. These cohorts are usually studied via data-collection given the large number of students and information being gathered and analyzed.

According to the USDE, the purpose of the educational cohort is to create a uniform and “accurate method of calculating graduation rates” across states “to improve high school accountability.” The cohort is followed over the four-years of high school, adjusting to take into consideration student transfers (in and out), dropouts and deaths along the way.  Big education did this to “move all states towards using a common calculation” and also  asserted that the “adjusted cohort formula has been deemed more accurate than other calculations in its ability to track student movement over time.”

Cohort regulations are difficult to understand because they are encrypted in the language of federal legislation and education bureaucracy.  They “are referred to as the ‘2008 Title I regulations’ that fall under section 1111(h) of ESEA, which is found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 and is part of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS).

Other provisions under cohort regulations are housed in the NCLB Act as “other academic indicator” categories that states use to define “adequate yearly progress” (AYP), the “key yardstick under the law” to show proficiency in language arts and math, Education Week reported in 2011.

States were mandated to use this culled and averaged information to report their AYP. As schools failed in meeting their AYP marks, they faced an escalating “set of sanctions” that ranged from “requiring schools to provide tutoring and school choice to restructuring a school.”

The NCLB waiver was born to “free up about $1 billion in Title I money that schools have been required to hold back to provide tutoring and choice,” also according to Education Week.

Title I is the among the greatest areas of federal education spending. It is a program that focuses on assisting low-income, at-risk students but Local Education Agencies (LEAs) can set aside a portion of IDEA dollars for Title I schoolwide programs under ESEA section 1114. According to the USDE, the 2008 Title I regulations require states and LEAs to report this four year adjusted cohort graduation rate as part of their annual report cards.

The NCLB waiver also has been a bartering chip. In exchange for not being held accountable to the impossible NCLB goal of students achieving 100 percent proficiency in math and language arts by 2014, the Obama administration required states to adopt college- and career-ready standards, that “focus on 15 percent of their most-troubled schools, and create guidelines for teacher evaluations based in part on student performance” and furthermore, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top (RTTT) contest “encouraged states to expand charter schools, adopt common tests, and link student data to teacher evaluations, including decisions on pay and tenure,” Education Week article also pointed out.

Texas may not be a Common Core state but Houston ISD applied for the federal RTTT dollars and won $30 million in 2013. Texas also took an NCLB waiver and revamped its College & Career Ready Standards (CCRS) through legislation that must meet specific federal accountability requirements.

The 2013 high school graduation rate is rather confusing to understand but it is a perceived accolade that comes at a time when there is an increase of failing public schools, frustration with new math standards, a nationwide movement to opt-out of “high-stakes” testing that has spilled over into opposition against the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing, coupled with the newly proposed state legislation Senate Bill 149 that would eliminate end-of-course exams in a post-House Bill 5 “college and career ready” aligned Texas.

Currently, the state is at odds with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and risks losing its NCLB waiver over the implementation of these required teacher and principal accountability evaluations defined as ‘flexibility’ from NCLB,” which Breitbart Texas reported.

Amid this turmoil, HR 5, unholy marriage of the USDE and the US Department of Labor looms but Texas is number two.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.