One of the state's public education objectives is that through improved dropout prevention efforts, all students will remain in school until they obtain a high school diploma. 1 In 1997-98, a total of 27,550 students in Grades 7-12 dropped out of Texas public schools. Statewide, the annual dropout rate was 1.6 percent, unchanged from 1996-97. About 77 percent of the state's dropouts were older than is typical for their grade level and the largest number of dropouts occur in 9th grade. The highest dropout rate was among 12th graders, and males continue to drop out at a slightly higher rate than females.
Hispanic students had the highest average dropout rate, at 2.3 percent, followed by African American students at 2.1percent. Less than 40 percent of the dropouts had been previously identified by their districts as being at risk of dropping out of school. The students' reasons for dropping out of school included poor attendance, entering non-state approved General Educational Development (GED) programs and pursuing a job.
School districts with the largest enrollments (50,000 or more students) had the highest average dropout rate, at 2.1 percent. Generally, districts with lower student passing rates on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) had higher dropout rates. 2
Unless specifically exempted, a child 6 through 17 years of age must attend school. 3 A child is exempt from the compulsory attendance law if the child:
- attends private or parochial school;
- is eligible for special education and cannot be served by the resident district;
- has a temporary physical or medical condition that makes it infeasible to attend;
- is expelled;
- is at least 17 years old and is attending a course of instruction to prepare for the high school equivalency examination, or has already received a high school diploma or equivalency certificate;
- is at least 16 years old and is attending a course of instruction to prepare for the high school equivalency examination as recommended by a supervising public agency, or pursuant to a Job Corps training program;
- is enrolled in the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science;
- is enrolled in the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities; or
- is specifically exempted under another law. 4
Identifying Students At Risk of Dropping Out
Section 29.081 of the Education Code identifies students at risk of dropping out of school to include a student in grades 7-12 ,who is under 21 and who:
- has not advanced from one grade to the next for two or more years;
- has math or reading skills that are two or more years below grade level;
- did not maintain an average of 70 in two or more courses during a semester, and is not expected to graduate within four years of the date the student begins ninth grade;
- did not perform satisfactorily on a TAAS test; or
- is pregnant or is a parent.
The law goes on to identify students in pre-kindergarten through 6th grade who did not perform satisfactorily on a readiness test or assessment test administered at the beginning of a school year; did not perform satisfactorily on a TAAS test; is a student of limited English proficiency; is sexually, physically, or psychologically abused; or engages in certain conduct described by Section 51.03 (a) of the Family Code. Finally, the law identifies students residing in residential placement facilities (detention facilities, substance abuse facilities, halfway houses, psychiatric hospitals, or foster family group homes) as being at risk. 5
State Dropout Goals
Section 39.182 of the Texas Education Code sets forth a goal to reduce the state's cross sectional and longitudinal dropout rates to 5 percent or less by the 1997-98 school year. 6 Longitudinal dropout rates are dropout rates over a period of years, for example, calculated when there are enough years of student-level data to follow a group of students from 7th grade through 12th grade to determine a dropout rate over time. The Texas Education Agency's (TEA's) statewide goals for dropout rates outlined in the 1999 Appropriations Act, House Bill 1 are:
Source: 1999 Tex. Gen. Appropriations Act, House Bill 1, 76th Leg., R.S., Article III, Education, at III-1, III-2.
Outcome (Results/Impact) FY 00 FY 01 Percent of Students Who Drop Out of the Public School System between the Ninth and the Twelfth Grades 8.0% 7.00% Annual Statewide Dropout Rate for All Students 1.5% 1.45% Percent of Annual Unaccounted Student Withdrawals 4.5% 3.00% Output (Volume) Number of Campuses with Combined Student Unaccounted Withdrawal and Dropout Rates in Excess of 15% 65 30
In 1999, TEA adopted rules including a "student performance domain" in administrator appraisals, which districts may include in their locally developed appraisals. Dropout rates and student attendance data are both included in the definition of "student performance domain." New principals and superintendents, however, are not graded on dropout rates in the first two years on the job at a particular school. Instead, dropout rates are used on a "report only" basis in administrator evaluations during the first two years. 7
Each school district must have a district improvement plan that includes strategies for dropout reduction. The superintendent must develop the plan with the assistance of the district-level planning and site-based decision-making committee. The district-level committee is made up of parents, community members and school staff members. The plan, which must be evaluated and revised annually, is not filed with TEA, but must be made available to TEA on request. 8
Section 39.182 of the Texas Education Code requires TEA to prepare a Comprehensive Biennial Report to the Legislature that must include a systematic plan for reducing dropout rates covering the preceding two school years. According to the code, the Biennial Report must include a description of a systematic plan for reducing the projected cross-sectional and longitudinal dropout rates to 5 percent or less for the 1997-1998 school year. This subsection is now outdated and has not been reconciled with the dropout rate goals outlined in the Appropriations Act. 9
Section 29.081 of the Education Code authorizes school districts to use a private or public community-based dropout recovery education program to provide alternative education programs for students at risk of dropping out of school. 10 A private or public community-based dropout recovery education program must meet minimum requirements including at least four hours of instruction per day. Faculty and administrators must have college degrees. A program must have a minimum of one instructor per 28 students and meet performance standards for alternative education programs established by the Commissioner. 11
Under the Education Code, "community education" may include programs for youth enrolled in schools, including programs for dropout prevention and recovery. 12 Under the state's community education program, a district can obtain funding for a community education project for up to three years using money from the Foundation School Program. 13
A school district is also allowed to establish a school-community guidance center designed to locate and assist children with problems that interfere with education. The center coordinates the efforts of school district personnel, local police departments, school attendance officers and probation officers when working with students, dropouts and parents to identify and correct those factors that adversely affect children's education. 14
Each school district must evaluate and document the effectiveness of its compensatory or accelerated instruction on reducing dropout rates. 15
State Agencies Involved in Dropout Prevention and Studies
In House Bill 1 (Appropriations Bill), the 1999 Legislature required the Legislative Budget Board, State Auditor's Office and the Texas Education Agency to conduct a thorough study of the current system used to identify and report students who do not graduate from high school or those who drop out of school before enrolling in high school. The study must determine the actual number and percentage of students not completing high school within four years of enrolling in the ninth grade. The findings must be disaggregated by ethnicity and economic status. 16
The HB 1-required study continued a requirement to include recommendations on whether the current method of reporting dropouts (or leavers) should be replaced and/or augmented by data based upon the number of students completing high school. If the study recommends a new method or system, it must also identify when it should be implemented by school districts. The study must be completed and reported to the Legislature and the Governor no later than January 1, 2001.
The Education Code requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to ensure that long range plans and educational programs complement the state's entire system of public education. A Joint Advisory Committee was established by the Legislature in 1985, made up of members of the SBOE and the THECB, along with representatives of the Council on Workforce and Economic Competitiveness and private businesses. The Joint Advisory Committee must coordinate plans and programs of the two agencies in the area of dropout reduction and prevention. 17
THECB administers the Texas Partnership and Scholarship program designed to encourage students who are at risk of dropping out of school to remain in school, graduate and seek a college education. The program is designed to award four-year scholarships for students who participate in a partnership program during their high school years and who meet criteria established by THECB. Schools or non-profit organizations that operate partnership programs targeted at areas with higher dropout rates are eligible for financial assistance. 18
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has a goal of fostering the development of responsible, productive citizens by reducing dropout rates. 19 Under chapter 531, subchapter G of the Government Code, the commission is developing a model and guidelines for the delivery of mental health services and support to minors, including best practices in the financing, administration, governance and delivery of services and seeking ways to expand local mental health care systems for children in an effort to increase school attendance and progress of minors.
The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) designates a state director of the Communities in Schools program, which is aimed at dropout prevention. TEA, DPRS and Community in Schools, Inc. are directed to work together by the Legislature to maximize the effectiveness of the program. 20 Schools must participate in the Communities in Schools program if the number of students who are at risk of dropping out on a campus equals at least 10 percent of the number of students in average daily attendance at that school. 21
The Governor's Office, Criminal Justice Division, administers federal grants to local community and law enforcement organizations pursuant to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to help fight drug abuse and violence in schools and communities and to help reduce dropout rates. 22