High School Completion by Youth with Disabilities
Whether youth complete high school or leave without finishing can be associated with both economic and social disadvantages, with dropouts experiencing a higher likelihood of unemployment and arrest and lower life-time earnings than graduates (U.S. Department of Commerce 2004; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention 1995). Data regularly collected by the U.S. Department of Education on high school completion and dropout rates for the general population show that school completion is less common among some demographic groups than others, including those from lower-income households and students who are Hispanic, for example (U.S. Department of Education 2005). Similar national data for students with disabilities are not routinely collected,1 so trends in school-leaving status and differential school completion rates for different demographic groups among youth with disabilities are unknown.
Data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2)2 are designed to provide a national picture of the rate at which secondary school students with disabilities complete high school and how they fare in their early postschool years. Further, comparisons of findings from NLTS2 and the original NLTS4 enables an investigation of changes in school completion rates from 1987 through 2003.
School Completion Status
Parents’ interview responses in 2003 indicate that 72 percent of out-of-school youth with disabilities complete high school by receiving either a regular diploma or a certificate of completion or similar document (figure 1). The rate of high school completion in that same year for youth with disabilities overall was 17 percentage points higher than the rate in 1987. Among the 28 percent who do not complete high school, the most common reasons reported are their dislike of their school experience (36 percent) and poor relationships with teachers and students (17 percent).
Disability Category Differences
School completion rates are quite high among youth with visual or hearing impairments (95 percent and 90 percent, respectively), as well as among those with orthopedic impairments (88 percent) or autism (86 percent). However, because these are low-incidence categories of disability (e.g., NLTS2 represents about 22,000 youth with hearing impairments, slightly fewer youth with orthopedic impairments, almost 15,000 youth with autism, and about 8,000 youth with visual impairments), their relatively high rates of school completion do not affect the average for all youth with disabilities to the extent that rates for higher-incidence categories do. For example, the school completion rate is 75 percent for the largest category, learning disability (NLTS2 represents more than 1,130,000 youth with learning disabilities). School completion rates for youth in four other categories are between 72 percent and 79 percent. Lower rates are apparent for youth with multiple disabilities or deaf-blindness and youth with emotional disturbances, among whom 65 percent and 56 percent are high school completers, respectively.
Significant increases in school completion are noted for three of the four disability categories whose members had the lowest school completion rates in 1987: learning disability (18 percentage points), mental retardation (21 percentage points), and emotional disturbance (16 percentage points).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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