Sophomore Lizbeth Rodriguez saw the long hours of studying and extra tutoring her older sister took on to earn both a diploma and associate degree while at W.W. Samuell High School.
And now her sister is well on her way to earning a teaching degree at the University of North Texas — two years early and having saved thousands of dollars.
Rodriguez, 15, followed her lead and enrolled in Samuell’s rigorous early college program.
“She had a lot more opportunities to take advanced classes and be ahead in college, and that’s what I want,” Rodriguez said.
Samuell topped all Dallas ISD campuses in the number of graduates earning an associate degree while in high school at 55 students in 2018, according to newly released accountability data.
This summer, the Texas Education Agency assigned campus grades for the first time in the state’s new A through F grading system. The state measured how well students did on state tests and how well campuses prepared them for life after high school using data from the class of 2018. This gives parents more detail about which campuses have the most high schoolers earning college credit.
Overall, schools with the fewest low-income families tended to have the most students getting a leg up on college.
Leading the state was Plano West Senior High School, which had 1,223 graduates who earned credit through dual enrollment courses or by scoring high enough on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests to likely earn college credit.
Other area high schools having the state’s highest number of students earning college credit were Plano East, Plano Senior, Allen, Coppell and Carroll Senior.
Only one campus among the top 10 Texas schools with the most graduates earning such credit had more than 50% of its students coming from low-income families: United High School in Laredo.
Even in Dallas ISD, the high school with the lowest percent of students living in poverty had the most earning some form of college credit. Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where about a third of students are from low-income families, had 253 graduates who earned dual credit or tested at high levels on for AP or IB.
Studies have repeatedly found that schools with higher rates of students living in poverty are less likely to offer more rigorous courses that prepare children for college. Just last year, a Government Accountability Office report had similar findings.
Many districts in Texas, including Dallas, have ramped up their efforts to get more kids on the college track by creating early college and related programs. Their goal is to break the cycle of generational poverty so students can go on to make livable wages.
Texas now has about 200 early college high schools across the state. These schools are designed to offer accelerated courses and support so that more students who might not have otherwise attended college can earn dual credit at no cost to them.
Unsurprisingly, such campuses tended to have the highest rates of students earning an associate degree, according to the Texas Education Agency’s accountability data.
Nearly 90% of graduates from the Arlington Collegiate High School earned an associate degree and nearly 80% from the Cedar Hill Collegiate High School at 79. Richland Collegiate High School, a charter campus, led the state with 189 graduates earning such degree.
DISD expanded from a handful of college offerings to now having five schools with early college designations and another 18 that are Pathways to Technology Early College High Schools, or P-TECH, which are programs that also partner with businesses for certain career pathways.
And this year, the district launched collegiate academies at Skyline High School and at North Lake College with plans to develop them so that they can carry the full early college designation.
DISD now has 7,765 students enrolled in either an early college or P-TECH campus.
Samuell’s early college program operates as a school-within-a-school model. Overall, the campus earned a “C” on the state’s new letter grades though Samuell scored higher on student progress.
Principal Jennifer Tecklenburg said Samuell continues to work on improvements so more kids are successful both within the early college and across campus as a whole. Students are being taught how to be more organized and more frequent parent meetings are being held so that families can work together to get students on track toward self-reliance.
Within the early college program, students now take their first course — usually an elective — at Eastfield Community College the summer going into their junior year so that they can ease into college life.
“We’ve found that the No. 1 reason kids fail is because they have trouble balancing the freedom of college with the responsibility they have to keep track of their courses,” Tecklenburg said. “There’s a lot of maturing that has to happen. So we work on getting them there.”
At Samuell, about 95% of students come from low-income families. Many don’t have relatives who are college graduates who they can turn to for help.
Sophomore Torrey Cohen will be the first in his family to go to college — a thought that’s both exciting and daunting for the 15-year-old.
Cohen half-jokes that he wants to be in the NBA one day. But if his basketball career doesn’t take off, he’d like to pursue a music degree. He loves playing piano. The extra support built into Samuell’s early college program relieves a lot of pressure and gives him confidence that he can earn a degree, he said.
“When you have people looking up to you as the first, you want to do well but you also want to make yourself proud,” he said.
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