Understating the high-school dropout rate

One basic measure of school and student performance is the drop-out rate. While being awarded a high-school diploma is no guarantee of having received an excellent education (whatever that means), it’s a statistically valid fact that drop-outs are at a substantially higher risk for all sorts of trouble, including criminal activity and welfare dependency.

Can the drop-out rates cited by state and district officials be trusted? Some people in Texas are asking questions about the statistics in the Lone Star state. From MySanAntonio.com:

A report about Texas school dropouts from the Texas Education Agency paints a rosy but distorted picture of the real problem, says the leader of an organization that has been studying the issue for 25 years.

School dropout experts at two Texas universities agree.

The TEA last week touted a dropout rate of 9.4 percent for the high school graduating class of 2009. But the agency’s own report shows that class, which started with 392,051 ninth-graders, had dwindled to 280,044 students by the time it graduated three years later, creating a combined dropout and attrition rate of nearly 29 percent.

The San Antonio-based Intercultural Development and Research Association [IDRA-ed.]  put the statewide dropout/attrition rate of the class of 2009 at 31 percent, and said it’s much higher for Hispanic and African American students and for large urban school districts.

There’s a large difference between 9.4 percent and 31 percent: The latter represents three times the number of drop-outs as the former, with all the attendant social ills.

Naturally, when the drop-out numbers are high, that doesn’t look good for schools, which has lead to some shenanigans:

“Students who are home-schooled are not included in dropout/attrition rates, and Robledo Montecel said many parents tell her group that school officials urge them to report they are home schooling their children — even if they are not.

Montecel is with the IDRA.

As for Kansas, the most recent report card on graduation rates from EducationWeek, which surveys each state, said that the class of 2007 had a graduation rate of 75.1 percent.

By contrast, the Kansas Building Report Card for 2007-08 shows (PDF) a graduation rate of 89.7 percent in 2007, which could give Kansans a much more optimistic view of Kansas schools than is warranted.

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