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Stat of the Week — Oct. 12, 2006

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Don't Mess With Texas Graduation Rates

Last week, the EPE Research Center released "High School Graduation in Texas," a troubling report on Texas graduation rates. According to the report, the statewide 2002-03 graduation rate in Texas is 66.8 percent, meaning that 120,000 students fail to receive a standard high school diploma on time. The state-reported rate of 84.2 percent is a full 17 percentage points higher than the graduation rate calculated using EPE Research Center Director Christopher B. Swanson's Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) method.

As the 2006 special report Diplomas Count revealed, it is common for states to overestimate their graduation rate when compared to figures generated by independent research. The average state overestimates its graduation compared to the CPI by 12 percentage points. What makes Texas remarkable is the fact that the state has in place an advanced data system that assigns each student a unique identifier, allowing the state to track students through graduation. Such a data system should allow for a straightforward accounting of who graduates and who doesn't, and many states are striving to put such a system in place. However, analysis of state data by the Harvard Civil Rights Project revealed that discrepancies were the result of the state's decision to remove certain types of students (e.g. those who get a GED or fail to pass the state exit exam) entirely from the calculation of the graduation rate.

Click image to view larger graphic.

In addition to revealing an inflated state-wide graduation rate, the EPE Research Center report also found that state-reported figures are also higher than CPI rates for each of the state's 10 largest school districts, although the size of the discrepancies vary considerably according to such factors as socioeconomic status. For example, we find an overestimate of 22 percentage points for the Houston ISD but only 9 points for the more affluent Cypress-Fairbanks district in suburban Houston.

Graduation-rate inflation can also be found when we examine rates for specific racial and ethnic groups across the state of Texas. In fact, this overestimation is more extreme among historically disadvantaged minority groups. Official graduation rates for black and Hispanic students are overestimated by 20 percentage points or more, relative to CPI estimates. By comparison, rates for white students are inflated by 15 points.

Click image to view larger graphic.

The report was released in conjunction with The Texas Dropout Crisis and Our Children, a conference at Rice University co-sponsored by the EPE Research Center, the Harvard Civil Rights Project, and the Rice University Center for Education.

If you want to see how your local school district stacks up against state and national averages for graduation rates, visit the EPE Research Center's new mapping Web site. With this service, users can create maps and download report cards on graduation rates for every U.S. school district.

To find out more about graduation policies in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, access the Education Counts database.

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See other stories on education issues in Texas. See data on Texas' public school system.

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