Student Disappearance in the Greater Houston Area

Posted on October 15, 2011


The Houston Chronicle has a guest blog by me today that looks at the number of 3rd grade students who took the TAKS test in the spring of 2003 who are still enrolled in school in 2011.


Below are some more details on the numbers I discuss in the blog. Looking at the number of students who remain in the Texas public education system is important in that many of those students who disappear simply drop out of school. And, as we will see, we can actually predict who is at-risk of disappearing/dropping out as early as the third grade.

But first, a quick note on the methodology. The basis for the analysis is individual student TAKS test taking data that was purchased from the Texas Education Agency. The data allow me to track individual students over time by identifying whether the student had an answer document submitted for them each spring. The data also identifies the school and district in which the student was enrolled. One group of students was omitted from the analysis–those exempted from TAKS testing because of special education status. Such students actually are less likely to remain in the public school system than non-special education students. Thus, my numbers slightly over-estimate the true percentage of students remaining enrolled in 2011.

Below, I look at the 3rd grade students who took the TAKS in the larger Houston area districts and whether the students were enrolled in the spring of 2011 and, if they were enrolled, which grade level were they enrolled. The first table examines the percentage of ALL students still enrolled in 2011 while the second table looks at only economically disadvantaged students.

Now, low-income students: One relationship astute readers will notice is that the percentage of students still enrolled in 2011 is related to the percentage of low-income students in a district. At the individual student level, low-income students are certainly more at-risk of disappearing from the system. Moreover, low-income students are much less likely to be enrolled in the 11th grade in 2011. Indeed, less than 60% were in the 11th grade in 2011. This means that the other 40% either were no longer in the public education system or were highly likely to not be prepared to enroll in some type of post-secondary institution of higher education.

But if you REALLY want to see who is at-risk of not staying in the system, check out THIS graph:

Only 63% of low-income 3rd grade students who did not pass the TAKS math test in the 3rd grade were still enrolled in ANY grade level in 2011. Research suggest most of these students dropped out of school, although the TEA data does not allow us to determine that.

But wait, it gets even uglier:

Yes–only slightly more than ONE-THIRD  of the low-income 3rd grade students who failed the TAKS math test in 2003 were enrolled in the 11th grade in 2011 in a Texas public school. About 40% disappeared from the system and about another 25% were enrolled in 9th or 10th grade. So, only about one-third had any chance at all of being ready for college or any post-secondary institution of education.

A large volume of research has pointed out that low-income students and especially low-income students below grade level were severely at-risk of dropping out or not staying on grade level.

Yet, what did Governor Perry and our conservative dominated legislature do? Cut funding to pre-kindergarten programs that have been shown to be effective in preventing school failure and are incredibly cost-effective. They also cut overall funding which has led many, many districts to obtain class size waivers, thus increasing class sizes for students. Yet, we know that smaller class sizes in the early grades have great benefit to students who struggle academically.

Ignoring these kids now will not only increase the state-s financial burden later when the students drop out and/or end up in the justice system, but it is also simply unethical. For all the bible verses thrown around at the Capitol, it sure is strange that no one ever brings up “whatever you do to the least of my brothers” when budget cutting occurs.



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