Texas Business Association Questions HS Graduation Rates

The Texas Association of Business (TAB) has called for an investigation into graduation rates of the 100 largest school districts in the state.

TAB, which refers to itself as the largest business group in Texas, called on the Texas State Auditor’s Office to perform the investigation after an internal audit of the Dallas ISD raised questions concerning whether almost 25% of graduating seniors from the Class of 2013 should have received their diplomas.

“For many years the Texas Association of Business has questioned the dropout numbers reported by school districts across the state,” said Bill Hammond, Texas Association of Business CEO. “Up until now, the question has always been about why students were leaving school and if those students were correctly counted. Now, based on the Dallas Independent School District audit it appears very high numbers of students who graduated may not have been in compliance with state law and should not have received a diploma.”

According to the internal audit, 1,821 of the 7,302 graduating seniors did not attend enough classes to graduate.  There is not enough documentation to prove whether the students made up enough class time per state law.

Scott Hochberg, writer of the 2007 law allowing principals to develop their own plans to make up coursework for students who miss too many school days, said the schools may be breaking that law.  He said that in order to graduate, students must make up the coursework.

“To me, that’s no different than to just give credit if the student never showed up,” said Hochberg, D-Houston, who retired from the Legislature in 2013.

The Texas Education Agency released accountability ratings in August for 1,200 schools in the district, including charter schools and alternative education programs, showing that 90% met their standards.  The report looks into student achievement on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam, progress, college or workforce readiness and closing the performance gaps.

“While the 2014 numbers are positive, the work continues in districts across our state to meet and exceed increasing state standards and the expectations of their local communities,” Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a news release.

The report was changed from last year to place less emphasis on test scores, so the findings cannot be compared to the results of previous years.

However, TAB and the Dallas ISD are not persuaded by the agency’s findings, as the new ratings were designed to have a failure rate of no more than 5%.  The groups hope that the investigation will provide answers.

The state is also facing a financial issue in schools, as the school finance system for the state was called unconstitutional by Travis County District Judge John Dietz, who said it leaves schools in low-income areas at a disadvantage and “cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren.”

The lawsuit is not expected to reach the State Supreme Court until early 2015, leaving the public education budget in limbo.