According to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 78.9 percent of the high schoolers in Texas' Class of 2010 graduated within four years, a rate slightly above the national average but contrasting with another federal study that ranked the state much higher.
Texas' rate in the NCES study was an increase of about 3 percentage points from 2009. Late last year, data released in November by the U.S. Department of Education ranked Texas, along with five other states, fourth in the nation for its four-year high school graduation rates. In that report, the state posted a 86 percent graduation rate for the 2010-11 school year.
The NCES study reflects federally collected data from the 2009-10 school year, while the Education Department number is based on more recent state-reported data, and each study uses different definitions to reach their conclusions.
The latter takes the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students enrolled in the graduating class adjusted for incoming and outgoing transfers. School officials report student withdrawals with more than a dozen different “leaver codes,” only some of which count toward graduation rates. If a school codes a student as returning to a home country, or entering home school, for instance, that student does not factor into the school's four-year graduation rate.
Though Texas has followed federal guidelines in reporting graduation data since 2006, some education advocates in the state argue that the leaver code system provides too many opportunities for school districts to artificially boost graduation numbers.
The NCES is based on an estimate called the "average freshman graduation rate," which measures the percentage of high school students who graduate within 4 years of starting ninth grade by using enrollment data to calculate the size of an incoming freshman class through averaging enrollment for eighth, ninth and 10th grades over three years and counting of the number of diplomas awarded in the fourth year.
The differences in the figures bear out through the demographic groups. In the NCES report, 77.4 percent of the state's Hispanic students graduated on time, compared with 69.4 percent for blacks and 82.8 percent for whites. Under the Education Department definition, the state's graduation rate was 81 percent for black students 82 percent for Hispanic students and 92 percent for white students.
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