With the HiSET exam not renewing their contract in Texas and adult learners scrambling to complete the exam before August 31, it is important to look at some critical factors and statistics which, if nothing else, point toward a greater need for increased educational focus and spending within the adult education sphere. Over the coming weeks, we plan to share research and shine a light on realities in Texas that are not widely known as we build a case for opportunities and advocate for change, all within the context of the school dropout and the high school diploma/equivalency earner.
A caveat: accumulation of data takes time. Many bureaucratic agencies release statistical reports two years or more after the year in the study. The alternative to these reports is population surveys, which are increasingly cost-prohibitive when in lockstep with thoroughness. Many surveys conducted, then, are segmented, which opens the door to margins of error. Then came the novel coronavirus, for which statistical impact will be sorted through for years to come. Even so, we can extrapolate enough of a story and identify several economic, familial, and societal stressors.
We begin with a review of middle and high school students. In Texas, high school equivalency (HSE) test takers and completers have declined since 2003*. A prevailing belief is that decreases in the dropout rate and the ability for those between the ages of 18-25 to complete missing credits and earn their diploma means fewer young adults need to obtain an equivalency certificate. The Texas Education Agency (TEA), whose most recent annual report studies students in the 2018-19 school year, boasts a 1.4% dropout rate, which has held steady since the 2014-15 school year when the rate was 1.5%. But who do these percentages represent?
The 1.4% dropout rate in 2018-19 represents 34,477 students. In contrast, 1.5% in 2014-15 represents 33,437 students, a difference of 1040. As Texas continues to draw people from across the nation, attracted by lower cost of living and no state taxes (among other perceived benefits), schools will continue to see an influx of students, and actual numbers reflected in the percentages will increase accordingly. TEA reports dropout statistics beginning with the 7th grade. Consider the following data:
Annual Dropout Rates, by Grade Span,
Texas Public Schools, 2018-19
Grade span Dropouts Students Rate (%)
Grades 7-8 3,579 829,296 0.4
^Grades 9-12 30,898 1,611,202 1.9
Combined 34,477 2,440,498 1.4
^Overage students (18-25) are included in the grades 9-12 segment and account for 8,390 students.
Further analysis of the make-up of this dropout population reflects trends that we tend to see in society as a whole: Hispanic (60.6%) and African American (20.1%) students make up the largest segment of total dropouts. “Economically Disadvantaged” students represent 73.2% of total dropouts. Male students make up 59.5% of total dropouts. Other contributing factors to dropout rates include students considered “at-risk,” those with identified learning disabilities, those who are homeless or in foster care, and English Language Learners.
These marginalized young people often find themselves a part of systemic and cyclical patterns of poverty, violence, and crime. In part two, we will take a brief look at our incarcerated population in the state.
The bulk of the data cited in this post came from TEA’s annual statistical report Secondary School Completion and Dropouts in Texas Public Schools, 2018-19, pgs. 64-75, available here.
*The data alluded to early on came from the Center for Public Policy Priorities’ paper "The Texas GED Problem Is Getting Worse", written by Chandra Villanueva and published in January of 2018.