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Texas leads high school grad rates among Hispanics, African Americans

San Antonio Express News
March 19, 2015

By Maria Luisa Cesar

More African-American and Hispanic students are graduating from high school and Texas is leading the improved picture nationally, data released Thursday by the Texas Education Agency show.

Nationally, the four-year graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students jumped by nearly 4 percentage points from 2011 to 2013. Among the 50 states, Texas had the highest graduation rates for the two student groups in the class of 2013.

More than 84 percent of Texas’ African-American students who entered high school four years earlier graduated in 2013, compared to 70.7 percent nationally, the data show. Hispanic graduation rates were a little higher for the same year in Texas, hitting 85.1 percent while the national average reached 75.2 percent.

The numbers were crunched by the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal entity in charge of collecting, analyzing and reporting U.S. education data.

Other student groups in Texas — Anglo, Asian, economically disadvantaged and those contending with disabilities — ranked in the top five states for graduation rate comparisons.

The only Texas group that didn’t fare as well were students with limited English proficiency, with a graduation rate of 71.3 percent. Still, that was ninth in the nation for limited English speakers and 10 percentage points above the national average for that group.

Northside Independent School District officials were not surprised by the report, district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said. The largest in the city and fourth-largest in the state, the district provides students “with a menu of options,” including credit recovery and credit acceleration to ensure they cross the finish line, he said.

San Antonio ISD Superintendent Sylvester Perez echoed the commitment to student success but said the controversial emphasis on standardized tests in No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that had its roots in then-Gov. George W. Bush’s reforms, played a role, too. Smart use of testing has helped educators see where they needed to do more work, particularly with student populations coming from economically disadvantaged households or those with limited English proficiency, Perez said.

“Even though NCLB has its critics, the one thing that it did do is it revealed some of the areas that we all needed to improve upon,” he said.

The future of NCLB is up for debate in Congress, while state lawmakers have distanced themselves from the law.

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said the graduation data “confirms Texas as a national education leader” and added that it “bodes well for our state’s economic future.”

Overall, the graduation rate for Texas students in 2013 was 88 percent, tying with Wisconsin for third place.

Iowa tops the chart with a graduation rate of 89.7 percent, followed by Nebraska with 88.5 percent. The national average is 81.4 percent.

The Texas numbers, though promising, show thousands of students still are not getting diplomas. In 2013, more than 21,600 were counted as “dropouts.” More than 17,600 students from that cohort were listed as “continuing” students or as receiving a GED, according to state data.

Texas education officials use those numbers when calculating the state graduation rate, bringing it to a higher number — 93.4 percent — than the national figures show.

The federal government uses the “four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate.” To obtain it, officials take the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who form the class. That graduation class is also “adjusted” to include any students who transfer into the cohort and by subtracting any students who transfer out, emigrate or die, according to definitions found on the government website.