The study examines data from 271,000 Texas students. The accountability system relies on student test scores to rate schools. So students who are likely to fail can bring down a school's rating. Eileen Coppola says that's where the problem comes in.
"Schools were allowed to hold kids back in the 9th grade. The idea was if they weren't ready for the TAKS test in the 10 grade, they could be held back in the 9th grade. And so this was done in very large numbers. And so what we saw was that the more students were held back the higher the school ratings increased. But what happens is the more you hold students back in grade the more likely they are to drop out."
Coppola is a research scientist at Rice University's Center for Education. She spent seven years collecting the data and interviewing teachers and students. She says low-achieving students become liabilities to schools under the rating system. Her team found an overall graduation rate of 33 percent. That's much lower than the state's reported 84 percent.
"Those numbers did not take into account the mobility. We just didn't have the data to take into account mobility. But we say that even if you add something like a 20 percent mobility rate of kids transferring out of the district, the graduation rates are still very very low."
The Texas Education Agency is often criticized for its methods of reporting dropouts. The state doesn't count students who drop out for reasons like pregnancy or incarceration. They also don't count students who say they intend to take the GED.
You can find a link to Rice University's complete study on our website KUHF dot org.
Laurie Johnson. Houston Public Radio News.