• December 02, 2011

    The Truth About the District’s Graduation Rate

    MYTH: The advocacy group Children at Risk says HISD’s six-year graduation rate is 60.2 percent. This means the official HISD four-year graduation rate of 74.3 percent reported by the Texas Education Agency must be wrong.

    FACT: Children at Risk uses a different methodology for calculating graduation rates. That formula does not account for students who leave Texas, return to their home countries, enroll in private school, or choose homeschooling. Those students are instead counted as “dropouts.”

    HISD’s 74.3 percent graduation rate is based on the formula adopted by the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), the primary federal entity charged with collecting and analyzing data related to education.  It is the official methodology that the Texas Education Agency requires all school districts to use. This data shows HISD’s high school graduation rate has never been higher, and this is true for students in every racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic group.


    The Houston Independent School District has much respect for Children at Risk’s advocacy work on behalf of our city’s most vulnerable children. The organization’s efforts to draw attention to child nutrition issues, child sex trafficking, and the critical need for all of our children to have access to great schools is invaluable.

    HISD also agrees with Children at Risk that schools in Houston and throughout Texas face a serious dropout crisis. This is why HISD is addressing the problem with an array of interventions and strategies that target specific risk factors at the student, family, school, and community levels. HISD believes that effective principals and teachers, rigorous standards, and strategic support systems are the keys to student success.

    HISD is far from solving the dropout problem, but the most inclusive data tells us the district is making real progress.

    In summary, HISD is keeping its promise to make restoring cuts to classroom funding its top budget priority.

    Read on for a more detailed description of how high school graduation rates are calculated.

    The four-year high school completion status, including the four-year graduation rates, for all HISD high schools are calculated using a methodology adopted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The NCES is the primary federal entity charged with collecting and analyzing data related to education. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. Data collected by the NCES is relied upon by the United States Congress, state governments throughout the country, and researchers at the nation’s most prestigious universities. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) mandated that all school districts begin using the NCES’s widely accepted and rigorous completion status calculation methodology beginning in the 2005-2006 school year.

    The official state-produced graduation rate represents the percentage of students who finished high school within the standard four years.

    For this calculation, some students, based on ‘leaver codes’, are not included if they leave the public school system.  Students removed from the calculation are those who have left the public school system to enroll elsewhere: those who leave to attend private school, a school outside Texas, or to be homeschooled.  In addition, students who leave to return to their home country, who are expelled, or die are removed.  In addition to leavers, TEA also removes students from the calculations for whom TEA cannot find records in their system.  Since TEA is unable to tell how many underreported students are dropouts, TEA reports them separately from graduation, completion or dropout rates. For context, in 2009-2010, HISD only had 122 underreported students in grades 7-12 which represents 0.15 percent of the grades 7-12 enrollment for the district.

    HISD’s most recent graduation rate using the NCES methodology is 74.3 percent, which is the highest rate HISD has ever recorded. In addition, the current NCES graduation rates for all HISD students, regardless of racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group, are the highest since Texas adopted this more stringent completion status calculation method.

    By contrast, the Houston-based advocacy group Children at Risk uses its own method for calculating a school’s graduation rate. It is a unique method that is not used by any governmental entity in America for reporting purposes.

    Their methodology tracks first-time freshmen (those enrolled in ninth grade for the first time) to determine whether the cohort of students graduated from any Texas public school within six years. This measure relies on the state’s ability to track individual students anywhere in the Texas public school system. This is a simple formula that takes the number of students who went on to graduate from any public high school in Texas divided by the total number of first-time freshmen minus students who died before graduating from high school. By using this simple formula, Children at Risk’s methodology labels students who returned to their home country, moved to another state, enrolled in private school, or left high school to be homeschooled, as dropouts.

    Regardless of which graduation rate methodology is used, everyone agrees that too few students in HISD and in other school districts across Texas are earning diplomas. There is a dropout crisis in Houston, in Texas, and across the nation.

    HISD is committed to aggressively addressing the challenge of school dropouts by utilizing an array of interventions and strategies that target specific risk factors at the student, family, school, and community levels. In recognition of the fact that students drop out of school for multiple reasons and often have multiple and overlapping risk factors, HISD staff draw from a wide menu of interventions and actions to target specific risk factors in a timely fashion, and at appropriate “dosage” levels. Using a modified public health approach to the problem, HISD engages in a variety of community partners to coordinate a unified and strategic response. Specific activities and actions include, but are not limited to, the following:

    1. Collaborative Partnerships

    a. HISD partners with community organizations to bring resources and public awareness to bear on the issue of dropout prevention.

    b. Grads within Reach is a highly visible example of district-community partnership to reach out to dropouts and those at risk of dropping out. Each fall HISD staff and volunteers personally visit the homes of students who did not return to school, offering them resources that will help them transition back to school.

    c. HISD’s involvement with the America’s Promise Alliance is another prominent collaboration that has brought the district formal recognition as a 100 Best Communities for Children city for four years in a row.

    d. Additional partnerships with organizations such as the Intercultural Development and Research Association (IDRA), the United Way of Houston, Child Protective Services, the Department of Family Protective Services, Harris County and municipal courts and others each serve to target specific student needs and risk factors.

    2. Personnel

    a. The position of Director of Dropout Prevention was created and filled in January of 2011, brining leadership and strategic focus to HISD dropout prevention efforts.

    b. The Director is developing targeted training and professional development sessions to educate district staff on effective, research-based dropout prevention strategies. Training will be made available to key constituencies such as student caseworkers, Grad Lab Coaches, social workers, campus administrators, and teachers.

    3. Data Analysis and Monitoring

    a.The Director and staff regularly review campus and district indicators related to the dropout and graduation rates, identifying trends and challenges, and using data to drive decision-making and planning.

    b. A Campus Consultation Team, comprised of the Director, the Manager of Student Engagement, a student caseworker, and campus staff are available to  conduct (on request) a comprehensive review and needs assessment of campus actions, develop a report with specific recommendations, and then support the campus in implementing recommended strategies and actions. This process has been taking place on multiple campuses and is an on-going project of the Departments of Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement.

    4. Early Warning

    a. A new report has been developed within the Chancery computer system to facilitate the early identification of students who are off-track for on-time graduation. The Dropout Prevention Early Warning (DPEW) report allows administrators to identify and sort students based on predictive risk factors such as grades, attendance, and behavioral problems that result in out-of-class placement.

    b. Based on data in the DPEW report and other sources of information, campus staff are being trained (via High School Office DRIP meetings and campus meetings) and directed to intervene as early as possible at the first signs of a student being off-track. This means intervening rapidly with any student who is absent more than 10% during the first 20 days of school, who exhibits low or failing grades at the first progress reporting period, and/or who are placed in in-school suspension or suspended from school.

    5. Targeted Programs

    • 40 Developmental Assets
    • Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID)
    • Big Brothers, Big Sisters
    • City of Houston Municipal Court Truancy Prevention Program
    • Coca Cola Valued Youth Program
    • Communities In Schools
    • Harris County Absent Student Assistance Program
    • Multi-Age Looping Pilot
    • Project GRAD
    • Upward Bound
    • Grads Within Reach
    • AIM Truancy Solutions

    6. Alternative and Charter Schools

    a. The Director and staff are collaborating with the Alternative and Charter School Improvement Officers (SIO) to identify areas of support and to raise internal and public awareness of the role and offerings of HISD charter schools and alternative schools of choice.

    7. APEX/Virtual School

    a. The Director collaborates with the Manager of Digital Curriculum to expand access to APEX and other online curriculum delivery systems.

    b. Access to APEX is being expanded to include middle schools. APEX middle school coursework includes remedial support for the core academic classes, as well as opportunities to accelerate and earn high school credit.

    c. The Director has collaborated with staff at Furr High School, the North Shore Community Fellowship of Faith Church, and district staff to open a “homework help” lab in the church. This lab is staffed by HISD tutors on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and students have access to the APEX digital curriculum during these times in addition to having tutors available for direct assistance.