Special Education Graduation Rates Lag Behind

More than four out of five high school students graduated on time in 2014, the highest rate on record. Although some discredit the statistics validity, it’s fairly clear that obtaining a high school diploma is better than not. Though these rates are an achievement, lost in the discussion is the much lower rate of graduation for special education students.

Nationwide, only 63 percent of students with disabilities graduated in 2014, a rate of approximately 20 percent lower than the national average. In states including Mississippi, Nevada and Georgia, special needs students graduated at half the rate of their non-disabled peers. The rate for students with disabilities is lower than 60 percent in 20 states.

These depressed rates and the large gap between special needs students and non-disabled students is alarming. Particularly because it has been documented that students with disabilities who graduate are much more likely to spend their early adult years in school, preparing for work and ultimately working, when compared to those who do not graduate. Students with disabilities who obtain a high school diploma are three times less likely to get into trouble with the law than their peers who dropout.

The bright side is that research has identified what steps need to be taken in order to reach more special needs students and ensure graduation. Rates are higher in states in which disabled students are encouraged to obtain a diploma with the same requirements for students without disabilities. Interestingly, graduation rates for students with disabilities are significantly lower in states that offer alternative special education diplomas. These diplomas are emended so that students do not need to meet general education requirements.

Graduation rates for students with disabilities have improved slightly over the past few years. The increase has been attributed to increased endeavors to support students with disabilities and integrate them into general education classrooms. To continue the upswing in special education graduation rates, students with disabilities will need to be a top priority. High expectations and clear methods to reach these students will be paramount if the graduation rates are to continue to improve.



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