Approximately three of every ten students (29 percent) from Texas’s 2006–07 freshman class left school prior to graduating with a high school diploma, according to a new report from the Intercultural Development Research Association (IRDA). That’s a decline of 11 percentage points over the last ten years and the first time in the twenty-five-year history of the IRDA report that the attrition rate has fallen below 30 percent. However, the report, Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2009–10, also finds that the gaps in the attrition rates of white students and Hispanic and black students are “dramatically” higher than when the study began in the 1985–86 school year.
The IRDA attrition studies are unique in that they provide time series data, using a consistent methodology, on the numbers and percentages of Texas public school students who leave school prior to graduation from 1985–86 through 2009–10. IRDA calculates an attrition rate based on an analysis of ninth-grade enrollment figures and twelfth-grade enrollment figures three years later—a period that represents the time span during which a student would be enrolled in high school. It notes that attrition rates, along with other dropout measures, are useful in studying the magnitude of the dropout problem and the success of schools in keeping students in school.
According to the report, attrition rates among all groups of students have declined dramatically since the 1994–95 school year. However, the gap between attrition rates of white and black students remains quite large after narrowing somewhat in recent years. The gap between attrition rates of white and Hispanic students has actually grown since the 1994–95 school year.
Observers point out that the recent declines are a positive development, especially considering Texas’s large population of low-income and immigrant students but acknowledge that much more work needs to be done.
As show in the chart to the right, the overall attrition rate was 40 percent in the 1994–95 school year. Among white students, the attrition rate was 30 percent, compared to 51 percent for Hispanic students and 50 percent for black students, leaving a gap of more than 20 percentage points. In the latest study, 15 percent of white students dropped out before receiving a high school diploma, compared to 39 percent of Hispanic students and 33 percent of black students.
The report notes that both Hispanic and black students have comprised a large proportion of students lost by schools. From 1985–86 through 2009–10, students from ethnic minority groups account for nearly three quarters (71.3 percent) of the estimated three million students lost from public high school enrollment.
The complete report is available at http://www.idra.org/images/stories/IDRA_Attrition_Study_2010.pdf.