Texas Ranks High Among States in Graduation Rates
The reason Texas looks better in this report is that for the first time they used the standard definition of dropouts used by the U.S. Department of Education (states were asked to do this so that rates can be compared). The U.S. study determines the percent of students who graduate, regardless of whether they do so within four years. Texas has in the past calculated the dropout rate based on what percentage of students graduated within four years of entry to high school. Many educators have been concerned about that definition since it is so highly unlikely that an English-language Learner (ELL) entering a U.S. school for the first time any time in high school means that the student must complete 26 rigorous courses in English AND learn to be proficient in English at the same time, and as of 2011-12, that student must also pass 15 end-of-course assessments! Research shows that it takes 7-10 years for anyone to become proficient in academic English. Why, then, must Texas ELLs be labeled as failures when they cannot do the impossible? Another group who are not likely to graduate within four years is composed of students with severe/profound disabilities. They can legally stay in school until 21, but if they do not graduate within four years, then they and the school were labeled failures according to TEA. There are other groups, as well, who find a four-year program impossible: teen parents, students with serious illnesses, migrant students, highly mobile students (each move within the school year costing days or weeks of non-attendance, but also the time it takes to adjust), students who enter high school significantly behind peers and need more remedial courses, and on and on.
The best news of this report shows what a bargain Texas taxpayers are getting. Texas educators struggle because of a lack of the resources available in other states (Texas ranked 49th in 2009-2010–before the $5.4 billion in cuts). If graduation, however, is any measure of success, let the victory bells ring! Can we do better? Absolutely, yes! But money matters, my fellow Texans! Money matters!