Texas Lies to Feds: Enrontize Federal Graduation Data

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At the end of 2012, with much fanfare Texas trumpeted that its 86% Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) was 4th in the nation. (For more on the ACGR go here). This would be a miraculous achievement for the Lone Star State. As we show in Is Texas leading its peers and the nation?: A Decadal Analysis of Educational Data, Texas’ Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) was 75.4% as recently as three years ago and ranked 29th in the nation. [i]

Many Texans have expressed that the 86% graduation rate is contrary to what they are seeing in Texas high schools and have characterized the results as “dubious.” The Houston Chronicle reported on recent independent analysis of the graduation rate in Texas,

Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business, calculated a completion rate of 65 percent by comparing ninth grade enrollment with the number of seniors graduating from the same cohort. Children at Risk takes the process a step further, tracking student movement through “leavers” – students not counted by the Texas Education Agency as dropouts but who leave the school for reasons beyond transferring to another public school. At 71.6 percent, Children at Risk’s calculated graduation rate strives to account for students who fall through the cracks. The data in both figures show the fact of the matter: The dropout problem remains prevalent.

So how has Texas shown miraculous ACGR graduation rate and increased it by 15-20% compared to independent analyses and the AFGR? Cloaking Inequity has been on the case since early December 2012 when I submitted a FOIA request to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). TEA recently responded. So here for your viewing pleasure, I have pasted data excerpts from TEA’s response below:

  1. The numerator of the four-year ACGR for the class of 2011, i.e. the number of students in the class who graduated with a regular high school diploma in four years, is 274,562.
  2. The denominator of the four-year ACGR for the class of 2011, i.e. the number of students in the class who graduated, continued in school in year 5, received a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, or dropped out, is 319,588.
  3. The number of first-time Grade 9 students in 2007-08 was 356,183.
  4. The number of students who transferred into the cohort (i.e. who entered Texas public schools in Grade 10 in 2008-09, Grade 11 in 2009-10, or Grade 12 in 2010-11) was 22,589.
  5. The number of students who transferred out of the cohort (i.e. “other leavers”) was 53,538.

The first thing I noticed was that the first-time ninth graders plus transfers in and minus transfers out equals 325,234 and not 319,588. (The difference is accounted for by “data errors,” essentially TEA has excluded them from the denominator for a variety of reasons, more on this  in a future post)

Now lets focus on the 53,538 transfers out of the 2011 ACGR cohort denominator.

Other Leavers, by Leaver Reason, Texas Public Schools, Class of 2011 Grade 9 Cohort

Code Leaver reason

Number

03 Died while enrolled in school or during the summer break after completing the prior school year

376

16 Withdrew from/left school to return to family’s home country

9,942

24 Withdrew from/left school to enter college and is working towards an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree

487

60 Withdrew from/left school for home schooling

14,991

66 Removed by Child Protective Services (CPS) and the district has not been informed of the student’s current status or enrollment

151

78 Expelled under the provisions of the Texas Education Code (TEC) §37.007 and cannot return to school

263

81 Withdrew from/left school to enroll in a private school in Texas

7,116

82 Withdrew from/left school to enroll in a public or private school outside Texas

19,430

83 Was attending and was withdrawn by the district when the district discovered that the student was not entitled to enrollment in the district because (a) the student was not a resident of the district, (b) was not entitled under other provisions of TEC §25.001 or as a transfer student, or (c) was not entitled to public school enrollment under TEC §38.001 or a corresponding rule of the Texas Department of State Health Services because the student was not immunized

510

85 Graduated outside Texas before entering Texas public school, entered a Texas public school, and left again

-a

86 Complete General Educational Development (GED) certificate outside Texas

68

87 Withdrew from/left school to enroll in the Texas Tech University ISD High School Diploma Program or the University of Texas at Austin High School Diploma Program

174

90 Graduated from another state under provisions of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children

-

Total

53,538

A dash (-) indicates data are not reported to protect student anonymity.

One of the interesting things about the homeschool PEIMS code is that it has tripled over the last decade. When students are coded as leaving school for homeschooling they are not consider dropouts nor are they included in the denominator of the ACGR. The Houston Chronicle ran a story in 2010 and said that “home-schooling in Texas doesn’t add up” and that Texas is “disguising thousands of middle and high school dropouts in this hands-off category.” Excluding students using in the homeschool PEIMS code would also inflate the ACGR.

Even the state’s biggest proponents of home-schooling admit that the structure is vulnerable to fraud.

“That seems to me to be a loophole,” said Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition.

The problem is not among legitimate home-schoolers, but among public school officials trying to run off problem students, Lambert said.

“We call it dumping,” he explained. Some advocates complain that Spanish-speaking and special-needs student are especially vulnerable to being pushed out of public schools.

In fact, until 2011-12, according to the Texas Education Data Standards (TEDS) rules, Texas districts could just state that students “intended” to be homeschooled. Now they are required to obtain a signed form from the parents.

Do you want to code 9,942 students as leaving the country? Here is what you need as official documentation, again from the TEDS:

Acceptable documentation is also a copy of the withdrawal form signed and dated by the parent/guardian or qualified student and a campus or district administrator.

Only the student and administrator signs..hmmmmm

Texas high schools could also state until 2011-12 that students “intended” to enroll in a public or private school out of state. This code was used for 19,430 out-of-state and 7,116 in-state. Now the state of Texas is requiring that school either get a transcript request, verification from recieving district or a signed letter from the parent. But in 2007-2008, well, this was not required. Sure, Texas has mobility, but it was not required to be verified.

So what is the bottom line here? The AFGR did not allow Texas to define away dropout and inflate their graduation rate because it averaged enrollments in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades for the denominator. The AFGR of course had its weaknesses, especially in states with high mobility. For example, in Is Texas leading its peers and the nation?: A Decadal Analysis of Educational Data, Texas’ AFGR for Asians was above 100% because of the influx of Asian American students into the state. However, the ACGR also has weaknesses because Texas has found creative ways to reduce the denominator by requiring very limited documentation from schools. These loopholes were apparently closed in 2011 as the state sought to meet federal reporting guidelines for its PEIMS codes.

Myself, Linda McNeil, Angela Valenzuela, Linda Darling-Hammond, Gary Orfield, Walt Haney, IDRA and many others have highlighted over the years how Texas data is exceedingly spurious. The ACGR is just the latest egregious example. So I guess that means that we have to wait until the class 2015 to get a valid picture of Texas’ graduation rates.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a few quotes from Texas high school administrators included in my EEPA article.

Testing Coordinator:

I think each year we get a new set of regs, and we try and figure out how is the best way to use it to our advantage… I mean, the game changes…it’s…like any – like a game that has a set of instructions. And everybody gets the same set of instructions, and everybody follows the same set of instructions…  If you’re really savvy, and if you’re really into everything as a principal you may see a problem… you may give your campus an advantage that another campus doesn’t have.
Assistant Principal:
It’s human nature to…look at your game plan and to look at the rules of the game… You know, and to say that using a loophole is not right or is a bad thing to do, I don’t necessarily agree with, because it could be a good thing. It depends on the loophole… schools, yes, are under pressure to look for creative ways to be successful, okay, that’s obvious.

[i] The AFGR high school is an estimate calculated by the U.S. Department of Education of the percentage of high school students who graduate on time. The AFGR uses aggregate student enrollment data from Common Core Data to estimate the size of an incoming freshman class and counts of the number of diplomas awarded four years later. The U.S. Department of Education creates the AFGR by estimating the incoming freshman class size by summing the enrollment in 8th grade in 1 year, 9th grade for the next year, and 10th grade for the year after, and then dividing by three. The averaging is intended to account for prior year retentions in the 9th grade. The AFGR estimate of an on-time graduation rate can be computed with currently available cross-sectional data. Similar to the event dropout rate, the AFGR is not as accurate as an on-time graduation rate computed from a cohort of students using individual student record data.

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Categories: Accountability, Dropout

Author:Julian Vasquez Heilig

Julian Vasquez Heilig is currently an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning and African and African Diaspora Studies (by courtesy) at the University of Texas at Austin.

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13 Comments on “Texas Lies to Feds: Enrontize Federal Graduation Data”

  1. January 14, 2013 at 6:16 am #

    This is very interesting data and give us a deeper understanding of graduation rates. Thanks for explaining it! Much work is needed to help students graduate!!

  2. TexasTeacher
    January 14, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    This is not surprising, just very disappointing. However, I don’t think school administrators should be under pressure to lie about data. These loopholes need to go away. If the data isn’t a true picture of the situation, how are we going to truly serve the students? How embarrassing when Texas public schools are trying to fend off budget cuts and privatization…we’ve got data manipulation on both sides. What a mess.

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