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Editorial: State's 'graduation rate' tale isn't the full story

By Longview News-Journal
Sept. 2, 2015 at 11:28 p.m.


Texas has one of the highest high school graduation rates in the United States, with nearly nine of every 10 students graduating on time.

At least that's what the Texas Education Agency reports, based on figures it's getting directly from the state's school districts. Everyone involved — particularly politicians — would really, really like you to believe the numbers reflect reality.

But you'd be better off buying the story that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and then could not tell a lie.

We believe Washington was certainly more honest than these numbers are. Unfortunately, they just don't make a lick of sense.

For instance, in 2014 the Texas Education Agency reported about 15,000 high school seniors left the public school system to pursue home schooling. Thus, school districts can count those students not as dropouts but as graduates of some school — though it's likely few of them ever got any more schooling.

One thing we know about high school seniors is that they are not going to switch to home schooling in their last year and miss all those parties and all that attention.

Yet that is exactly what school districts are reporting to the TEA, and the TEA has no real incentive to look into the matter any further.

To be fair to the districts, this could be what some of them are being told by individual students who might not want to acknowledge they are dropping out of school. The school districts actually have an incentive to not investigate any further, as increasing dropout rates count against them in school accountability ratings.

Other students might say they are moving out of state and that also does not count toward the dropout rate. Again, there's no proof this is what is actually happening.

What all this means is we have no real idea the percentage of students who are graduating from high school — though we can be pretty darn sure it isn't almost 90 percent.

This is a gaping loophole in our state really knowing how well its schools are doing, and it prevents us from trying to find ways to increase the number. After all, if Texas really did have one of the lowest dropout rates in the nation, why bother trying to inch it up another half percent? Other issues take priority.

Masking problems — no matter how good it might make us feel — is no way to solve them. The state needs to know how many students are making it all the way through to a successful graduation.

The numbers are never going to be 100 percent accurate, but Texas can surely find ways to bring them closer to reality. Instead of bragging about how good we are doing, it would be much better to be able to brag about the accuracy of our data.

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