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By W. Gardner Selby June 10, 2016

Austin district's claim to highest graduation rate among major Texas cities Mostly False

An ad posted in Austin’s Erwin Center during June 2016 high school graduation ceremonies made us wonder: "Austin ISD has the highest graduation rate of every major city in Texas."

That seemingly takes in a lot of school districts.

Asked the basis of the message, a spokesman for the Austin school district, Reyne Telles, said by phone that marketing officials focused on 2014 graduation rates for "signature" districts in the state’s five most populous cities.

For each district, Texas calculates one graduation rate by counting students in keeping with federal law and another rate that comports with state law.

Upshot: The Austin district’s 2014 graduation rate — 88.6 percent or 86.3 percent, depending on which result you choose — outpaced comparable rates for the Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth districts, Telles noted.

The district emailed us a spreadsheet presenting its figures, which we checked against Texas Education Agency data confirming that among the five districts, Austin had the highest graduation rates--though it was close: The Dallas district had graduation rates of 86.9 or 86.1 percent, respectively, TEA posts indicate. Statewide, the agency in 2015 announced the 2014 state graduation rate was 88.3 percent, a record high.

Texas High School Graduation Rates, Selected Districts, 2014





86.3 percent

88.6 percent




Fort Worth






San Antonio




SOURCES: Online searches using website, "Search Four-Year Graduation and Dropout Data by District, Class of 2014," Texas Education Agency (accessed June 6-7, 2016)

Other slices of data

We recognized other ways to compare the Austin district to other districts in major Texas cities.

For instance, TEA classifies Austin and 10 other districts as "major urban" districts, meaning each one is located in a county with a population of at least 870,000; its enrollment is the largest in the county or at least 75 percent of the largest district enrollment in the county; and at least 35 percent of enrolled students are economically disadvantaged.

The "major urban" districts include the districts AISD singled out for its ad plus the Arlington district in Tarrant County, the North East and Northside districts in San Antonio and several districts in El Paso County--El Paso, Socorro and Ysleta. And among these additional districts, per the state, the North East and Northside districts had the highest 2014 graduation rates (93.4 or 94.1 percent depending on the calculation). More than half the North East district lies within San Antonio, the district says, though it takes in smaller cities including Castle Hills. Northside describes itself as located in the northwest quadrant of San Antonio. The Socorro district, with 88.2 to 89.8 percent graduation rates, similarly fared better than the Austin district. The Socorro district says its serves students in East El Paso, the city of Socorro and Horizon City.

You could also look at districts based on enrollment, an approach that arguably elevates a suburban Houston district, the 110,000-student Cypress-Fairbanks district, into consideration. Its graduation rates of 91.4 and 92.4 percent, respectively, outpaced the 80,000-student Austin district’s rates.

We ran these alternate comparisons past Telles, who said it’s always a challenge to convert educational "speak" and/or data into something digestible for the general public. "We’re dealing with marketers that tell us billboard advertising is kind of complicated when you go more than six words," Telles said.

Telles said the district could have compared Austin with its fellow "major urban" districts. Then again, he said, "if you say Northside, the average person, I’d venture to say, would not know where that is." The ad statement, he said, came down to "consumability."

In a follow-up email, Telles noted that more than half the Austin district’s student population is considered at risk of dropping out — which is also the case in the four districts it chose for the comparison. But that wasn't so, Telles wrote, for the Northside, North East or Socorro districts. In 2014, according to TEA data, 56 percent of Austin students were considered "at risk." Half of Socorro students were at risk, the agency says, as were 43 percent of Northside students and 36 percent of North East students.

Our ruling

The Austin district says it has the "highest graduation rate of every major city in Texas."

This declaration is rooted in the faulty premise that Texas has only five major cities and only the districts named for those cities are worthy of comparison. Applying those filters gives the statement an element of truth.

On the other hand, we identified other districts in the same cities with higher graduation rates than the Austin district.

We’re flipping the Truth-O-Meter’s tassel and rating this claim Mostly False.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Telephone interview and email, Reyne Telles, executive director of communications and community engagement, Austin Independent School District, June 6-7, 2016

Website, "Search Four-Year Graduation and Dropout Data by District, Class of 2014," Texas Education Agency (accessed June 6-7, 2016)

Web page, "Community, General Information," North East Independent School District, undated (accessed June 9, 2016)

Web page, "About Northside ISD," undated (accessed June 9, 2016)

Web page, "Superintendent's Message," Socorro Independent School District, last modified March 24, 2016 (accessed June 9, 2016)

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by W. Gardner Selby

Austin district's claim to highest graduation rate among major Texas cities Mostly False

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