Texas Graduation Rates Praised by Perry, Questioned by Critics

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced high graduation rates for the state, with 88% of public school students receiving a diploma last year.

In response to the high completion rates, Governor Rick Perry issued a statement:

“We’ve set the bar high for Texas students to ensure every graduate is ready for college or career, and they have consistently demonstrated that they are up to the challenge. The class of 2013′s historically-high graduation rate is a testament to the hard work being put in by teachers and administrators in schools across the state, and students who realize the importance of a strong education in pursuing and realizing their dreams.”

The state has reported these high grad rates for three consecutive years, and Texas has increased its high school graduation rates consistently over the past six years. A year ago, Texas was second in the nation behind only Iowa in completion rate.

“The class of 2013 continues an ongoing trend of success in the classroom which has translated into more high school diplomas,” Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said in a news release. “With additional flexibility now provided to school districts, we should expect graduation numbers to remain strong with all students better prepared for life after high school in college, the workplace or military.”

While a demographic educational gap still occurs in students within the state, overall each group has improved.  This is best seen with economically disadvantaged students with 85% graduating; although this is below the national  average, it is 16 percentage points higher than it was in 2007.

However, some are questioning the methods used by the state to arrive at these statistics.

“This is so far removed from reality it is Orwellian in nature. If you look at the raw data — ninth graders and then those who walk across the stage four years later — the graduation rate is closer to 72-73%t,” said Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, which frequently advocates on education policy at the Legislature.

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.

A current TEA report shows almost 50,000 of the 360,000 students in the class of 2013 had left school “for reasons other than graduating, receiving GED certificates or dropping out.”  The report also mentions 5,000 students who had missing records.

Texas officials responded to the allegations that the state has a better method of tracking graduation rates because it accounts for individuals on a case-by-case level which allows it to adjust the score as needed.

“It’s been encouraging in recent years that no matter what definition has been used, the trend rates are going up,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman. “They all show higher graduation rates and lower drop-out rates.”