NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who Is A Dropout? How Do You Count Them?

May 23, 2001

Estimates of the dropout rate in Texas public schools vary from 1.6 percent to 40 percent, depending on the assumptions and definitions, and all are problematic. Dropout rates are important in Texas's state accountability system, where districts are rated on their success in keeping students in school, as well as average student test scores on the annual state exam.

  • The state's official dropout rate is 1.6 percent, based on 1998-99 school year data -- a dramatic decline from the 6.7 percent rate for the 1987-88 school year.
  • But Just for the Kids, an education reform group based in Austin, reports that 20 percent of Texas' first-time high school freshmen enrolled in fall 1994 dropped out within five years.
  • And the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 29.3 percent of Texans ages 18-24 have not completed high school.
  • The Intercultural Development Research Association, a San Antonio nonprofit group, reports an "attrition" rate of 40 percent at Texas schools -- but that is more a measure of cohort shrinkage between the freshman and senior classes that does not account for such things as transfers to other districts.

Which school leavers are counted as dropouts affects the dropout rate. For example, a student who quits school to pursue a General Educational Development (GED) program is a leaver, but not a dropout, according to the Texas Education Agency; but according to the standard national dropout definition created by the National Center for Education Statistics, he or she is a dropout.

Source: Joshua Benton, "Tough To Figure," May 20, 2001, Dallas Morning News.


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