Texas High School Graduation Rates Tell Good Story, May Not Tell Future Story

High School Graduation
Photo: Breitbart Texas/Bob Price

The latest high school graduation rates for Texas tell a good story of record-breaking rates. However, they may not tell the future story given new graduation requirements.

On Wednesday, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams announced that the state’s high school graduation rates hit “another all-time high for the state and marks the seventh consecutive year the overall rate has increased.”

According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) report Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools 2013-14, high school graduation completion for the Class of 2014 was 88.3 percent (out of 333,286 students), 0.3 percent higher than the class of 2013. That was an identical 0.3 percent bump up from 2012 to 2013. Since the Class of 2007, which showed a 78 percent rate, the state’s overall rate climbed 10.3 percent.

Another 4.3 percent of students continued in high school the fall after their anticipated graduation date, a 0.3 percent drop from the previous class rate of 4.6 percent. Both years reported 0.8 percent of students received General Education Development (GED) or high school equivalency certificates.

“The graduation numbers for the Class of 2014 tell us that school districts and charters are working every day to assure every student makes it to the finish line,” said Williams.

We’re very proud of that,” added Debbie Ratcliffe, TEA Director of Media Relations. She told Breitbart Texas by email, adding, “It is true that the four-year on-time graduation rate increased by only 0.3 percent in 2014 but that translates into 4,942 more students who earned high school diplomas.”

Asian students had the highest graduation rate at 94.8 percent and 93 percent of white students graduated on time. Girls towered over boys with a higher four-year graduation rate of 90.4 percent to 86.3 percent but when girls dropped out, they left in grade 12. Boys exited in grade 9. Approximately, 6.6 percent of students dropped out from grades 7-12, reflecting approximately 35,000 students.

Last year, Education News criticized the state’s reporting of dropout rates. They wrote: “According to federal procedure, Texas must track students who leave the school and report them to the state education agency. However, only some of these, such as those who move to another state or decide to home school, are counted toward the graduation statistic, allowing the state to hide the number of students who drop out.”

According to TEA, these rates are calculated using the same methodology as in other states. For districts, there are some additional calculations that are based on requirements mandated by the Texas Legislature.

In 2014, Breitbart Texas reported TEA’s longitudinal database Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) tracks student data following those federal procedures. High school graduation rates are determined under an untold number of codes. The U.S. Education Department’s (USED) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects and analyzes the data to assess education outcomes (i.e., graduation and dropout rates). It is part of the federal accountability reporting requirement under the No Child Left Behind waiver.

The Class of 2014 also showed graduation rates for hispanic students at 85.5 percent and black students at 84.2 percent. Williams, who focused on efforts to close the achievement gap, said in the announcement, “Texas continues to lead the way in its efforts to close the achievement gap among all its student groups and other states are taking note of our efforts.”

The achievement gap is also key to the national public education agenda. This is the disparity in academic performance of educational attainment across racial and ethnic lines; or higher and lower income families.

Nationally, Texas tied with Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota and Wisconsin. The five sat second to Iowa, which had high school graduation rates of 90 percent. Interestingly, the nation hit its highest high school graduation rate ever of 81 percent in 2012-13, according to USED.

However, Bill Hammond with the Texas Association of Business, an education policy advocate, questions the validity of the TEA findings. In March, he told KERA News Radio he thought the data was manipulated.

“To me it’s very unfortunate because the schools are getting the good housekeeping seal of approval from the agencies at the time when they’re simply not producing the kind of results that we’re going to need to keep Texas competitive into the 21st century,” he said.

Data manipulation is a common concern. It happens when data is coded and repeatedly grouped and mined. Hammond voiced similar worries last year. Hammond believed, when looking at the raw data, the 2013 graduation rate was closer to 72 or 73 percent. He called the previous year’s rate “so far removed from reality it is Orwellian in nature.”

In response to Hammond’s past comments, Ratcliffe told Breitbart Texas, “Bill and I are just going to have to disagree about this issue.”

Of key importance, Ratcliffe underscored to Breitbart Texas, “The Class of 2014 was the last class required to pass TAKS to graduate. Those students graduated under the 26-credit 4×4 diploma plan, meaning they had to earn 4 credits each in science, math, social studies and English. They had to meet the highest graduation requirements the state ever had.”

That is a vital point. The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) was replaced with the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Additionally, the House Bill 5 college and career readiness legislation passed in 2013 shifted graduation requirements and education focus from knowledge-based, per say, to career pathways, clusters with a skill set orientation.

Breitbart Texas reported that the Class of 2018 is the first batch of Texas public school students who will graduate under new high school requirements.

Those future high school graduation rates may be quite telling. HB 5 requirements no longer mandate a 4×4 diploma plan but a base 22-credits to graduate. Some of these changes were made to accommodate a non-college bound population; although, pervasive career and technical ready skills and credentialing rule the 21st Century classroom. Add to the mix, flat STAAR testing scores and a reduction in the number of STAAR tests needed to pass for grade promotion, and it will be interesting to see if and how high school graduation rates continue to soar.

Likewise, GED numbers may look different, too. Breitbart Texas reported that the Texas State Board of Education voted to explore alternative testing vendors given a Common Core-esque overhaul to the high school equivalency exam that incorporates an unrealistic level of rigor, online accessibility-only, and higher test fees that preclude high school dropouts from getting the second chance the test was originally designed to afford them.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.