True: Texas ranks No. 5 nationally for its high school graduation rate

Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas ranks very high in its share of students graduating from high school.

In a conference call with campaign supporters, Abbott said Feb. 19: “This is one of those facts that you are able to disarm liberals about. Listen, Texas has one of the top five states in the nation for high school graduation rate. More kids are graduating from high school, more kids are graduating from college than ever before.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that in fast-growing Texas, more students graduate from high school and college than before.

We focused on whether Texas still ranks among states with the highest graduation rates.

By phone, Abbott spokesman John Wittman told us Abbott relied on a chart showing state-by-state graduation rates in 2015-16. According to the chart, posted by the National Center for Education Statistics, Iowa led that year with a 91.3 percent high school graduation rate. The chart says New Jersey ran second, with a 90.1 percent rate, followed by West Virginia (89.8 percent) and Nebraska (89.3 percent).

Texas landed fifth, the chart says, with a rate of 89.1 percent, just ahead of Missouri (89 percent). The nation’s high school graduation rate was 84.1 percent, the chart says.

We noticed that Texas didn’t rank as highly as some other years.

At the Texas Education Agency, though, spokeswoman Lauren Callahan urged us to notice that the Texas graduation rate has consistently escalated. The statewide graduation rate in 2014-15 was 89 percent, the agency says, compared with 88.3 percent in 2013-14, 88 percent in 2012-13 and 84.3 percent in 2009-10.

From past fact-checks, we recognized another method used to gauge progress through high school — by comparing a year’s count of graduates to the number of ninth-graders three years earlier; the difference signals student attrition.

After Abbott spoke, we looked for a recent state-by-state breakdown and landed a reminder there are two ways to reach the alternative comparison.

In 2014-15, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 89 percent of Texas high-school students graduated three years after finishing ninth grade. According to the agency, Texas tied Alabama and Nebraska for third place nationally by this metric with Iowa (91 percent) and New Jersey (90 percent) leading the nation.

But Texas lags more states by a cruder yet popular measure based on tallying high school graduates each year and comparing that count with the number of students who completed ninth grade three years before. In 2012-13, the latest year analyzed by the education statistics center, Texas tied with California with an “averaged freshman graduation rate” of 83.6 percent. Twenty states had higher rates, a center chart says.

In October, the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association, which tracks high school completion rates, reported that, through the 2016-17 school year, the state’s attrition rate, not counting charter schools, hovered around 24 percent to 25 percent for five years — down from 33 percent in the mid-1980s. “Texas public schools are failing to graduate one out of every four” high school students, the report says.

To our inquiry, state education officials didn’t have a comparable attrition rate for 2016-17. DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokeswoman, emailed us agency information indicating that for 2015-16, the state calculated an attrition rate of 19.6 percent.

Our ruling

Abbott said Texas ranks among “the top five states in the nation for” its “high school graduation rate.”

Texas ranked No. 5 nationally for its 2015-16 graduation rate. Abbott was not talking about an alternative metric by which Texas in 2012-13 trailed 20 states for its share of students graduating compared with the number of ninth-grade students advancing three years before.

We rate his claim True.

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