PolitiFact Texas: High School Graduation Rates in Texas

Our weekly check-in with the Texas Truth-O-Meter.

By Alain StephensJune 24, 2015 10:31 am| ,

Texas is nearly No. 1 in high school graduations nationally, and flat-out first in graduating African Americans and Hispanic students. So says Rick Perry, at least.

Is he right?

Gardner Selby of the Austin American Statesman’s fact checking project, PolitiFact Texas, joins the Texas Standard to talk about that claim.

On what did Perry base this claim?

A spokesman pointed out a federal web page with a chart listing graduation rates for the states, plus a chart showing rates by race/ethnicity. The overall chart, from January, showed Texas No. 2 in 2012-13, with an 88 percent grad rate. Otherwise, Texas ranked No. 1 with its graduation rates for Hispanic and black students.

So, it seems this fact check is finished? 

Well, Perry read the referenced charts correctly. However, we also asked the Texas Education Agency about the ranks and learned the federal government made another run at overall graduation rates for a February chart putting Texas third nationally – not No. 2.

What accounts for the difference?

The new chart broke out each state’s graduation rate to a three-digit figure, including tenths of percentage points. The result — Texas landed 3rd with an 88.0 rate, tied with Wisconsin and behind Iowa at 89.7 percent and Nebraska at 88.5 percent.

Did weaknesses show up for Texas having the best rates for African American and Hispanic students?

Not that we spotted. The chart showed the 85.1 percent Texas Hispanic graduation rate was higher than rates for other states, besting the 82.5 percent rates in Indiana, at No. 2. Likewise, Texas ranked first for its black graduation rate, 84.1 percent – No. 2 was New Hampshire, 82 percent.

All of this is of course based on the phrase “graduation rate” a phrase which prompts many statical assumptions – but let’s pull back —  What does ‘graduation rate’ mean, exactly?

That’s actually a key question. These percentages reflect students to graduate in four years divided by the size of the potential graduating class. Schools don’t count students who transferred out, moved to another country or who died.

Critics have said a risk here is school officials finding ways to work the potential graduating class numbers, say, by recording dropouts as shifting to home schooling or leaving the country or such, without necessarily getting caught. When we brought up this possibility, though, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency said mis-recordings aren’t common and, she said, they’re accidental.

How did Perry’s graduation rate claim come out on the Texas Truth-O-Meter?

Given that Texas ranked No. 3 in overall graduation rates, not No. 2, but still No. 1 for its African American and Hispanic rates, and by another gauge Texas is middle of the pack: Mostly True, due to the fact that this statement needed clarification and additional information.