Houston Graduation Rate Continues to Rise

According to data released this week, the Houston Independent School District has continued to increase the percentage of students who are successfully graduating from its schools for the fourth straight year. Although the district’s graduation rate, which was 78.5% in 2011, is still lagging the graduation rate of Texas as a whole, it has made great strides since 2007 when only 64.3% of the district’s students graduated. Last year, 84.3% of Texas students graduated high school.

HISD uses the same methodology to calculate its graduation rate as is used by the Texas Education Agency when it computes the graduation rate for the state.

Most of HISD’s high schools saw their graduation rates improve from last year, with Kashmere High seeing the biggest gain, from 56.2 percent to 73.8 percent. An HISD investigation in 2010 found evidence that dropout records at Kashmere were being falsified in prior years.

Dallas ISD, the state’s second-largest school district, recently reported a graduation rate of 77.3 percent, a three-point gain from last year.

Still, some organizations take issue with the methodology used by the district. The education advocacy group Children At Risk, which is based in Houston, says that the formula used by HISD doesn’t fully account for the number of school dropouts. The numbers released by CAR show a more sobering 60% graduation rate in the district — roughly 14 percentage points lower than the district’s own estimates.

Nevertheless, district Superintendent Terry Grier said that the graduation rate growth is a great achievement for the HISD. Grier gave credit to the new aggressive approach the district has taken to combat dropouts, especially with weekly school staff meetings that track the progress of students in their schools most at risk for leaving without graduating. In addition, the district also makes sure that students who wish to make up credits in order to graduate on time can take online courses in the new “grad lab” program.

“This is big-time news,” Grier said. “To see this type of improvement in our school district, I think it has major implications for our city.”

Grier, who took charge of the state’s largest school district in 2009, said he hopes an intense focus on ensuring students can read on grade level will lower the dropout rate in future years. HISD plans to roll out a new curriculum next school year that incorporates reading in all subjects and to enroll struggling students in sixth and ninth grades into special reading classes.

“If a kid can’t read, they’re not going to graduate high school,” he said.