A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of All Children with Disabilities - 1996

Students with Disabilities Exiting Special Education

Research indicates that the school exit status of students with disabilities is an important predictor of postschool success. High school graduates with disabilities are significantly more likely to be engaged in productive activities outside the home, such as employment, postsecondary education, or volunteer work, than high school dropouts (Wagner et al., 1991). Due to requirements in IDEA, OSEP has been collecting these data since 1984-85. However, the data have changed somewhat over the years, and 1993-94 was the first year for which all States reported data on students exiting special education using revised OSEP data categories. These exit categories include:

In addition to collecting data in new exit categories, the method of analyzing these data has also changed. Rather than calculating percentages based on the number of total exiters with disabilities as in the past, percentages are now calculated based on total child count for students ages 14 and older. This revision was made primarily to make OSEP dropout rates comparable with rates used by other Federal agencies. Readers must keep in mind that not all students ages 14-21 will exit special education each year, and, as a consequence, percentages of exiting students will not sum to 100 percent.6 The new rates, as shown in figure 1.1, indicate the annual rate at which students with disabilities 14 and older continue to be enrolled in and exit special education through the various bases.


FIGURE 1.1 Enrollment and Exit Status of Students with Disabilities Ages 14-21: 1993-94

      Continuing in ====================================================> 73%       Special Ed.     Graduated with ===> 7%           Diploma     Graduated with => 2%       Certificate            Reached => 0.3%       Maximum Age       Returned to  ==> 4%       Regular Ed.    Moved, Known to ==> 5%     be Continuing   Moved, Not Known => 3%  to be Continuing        Dropped Out ==> 5%                    +------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+                   0      10     20     30     40     50     60     70     80                                            Percent  NOTE: The figure does not include students who died  SOURCE: Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs,         Data Analysis Systems (DANS) 


Students Who Graduated with a Diploma or Certificate

Graduation with a standard high school diploma was the most common basis of exit for students with disabilities; 7.5 percent of all students ages 14-21 graduated with a diploma. That graduation rate varied by disability category. Of all students ages 14-21 in special education in 1993-94, the students most likely to graduate with a diploma were those with visual impairments (10.3 percent of all students with visual impairments ages 14-21), hearing impairments (9.7 percent), orthopedic impairments (9.0 percent), and traumatic brain injury (9.5 percent). Those students least likely to graduate with a diploma were those with multiple disabilities (3.2 percent) and autism (2.9 percent).

Among the 1.6 percent of students who graduated with a certificate of completion or modified diploma, students with mental retardation (3.8 percent of all students with mental retardation ages 14-21) and deaf-blindness (4.6 percent) were most likely to graduate in this manner. Graduation with a certificate of completion or modified diploma was also common for students beyond the typical age for secondary school students; during the year, almost one-fourth of all students ages 21 and older received a certificate or modified diploma.

During the past 5 years, the percentage of all students with disabilities ages 14 and older graduating with a diploma or certificate has remained fairly constant, although the percentage decreased slightly in 1993-94, as shown in figure 1.2. The decline in the percentage of students graduating in 1993-94 reflects a smaller proportion of students receiving certificates of completion and modified diplomas. Some of this decline may be accounted for by policy changes in the States. For example, Texas no longer offers students with disabilities a modified diploma.


FIGURE 1.2 Percentage of Students with Disabilities Ages 14 and Older Graduating with a Diploma or Certificate: School Years 1989-90 to 1993-94
[figure omitted]


Students Who Returned to General Education

States reported that 4 percent of students with disabilities ages 14-21 returned to general education programs in 1993-94 (see table 1.6). This was true for a large percentage of students with other health impairments (18 percent of students in this category) and those with speech and language impairments (17 percent). The nature of the disabilities for students with other health impairments (e.g., asthma, and other chronic or acute health conditions) may result in a relatively short-term need for special education services, followed by a return to general education programs. In addition, States reported similar percentages of students with disabilities returning to general education programs across the secondary age range.

Because this was the first year data were required on students returning to general education, the percentage reported as returning is expected to increase over the next few years as States continue to modify their data collection systems. There were a small number of States and Outlying Areas that did not report any students returning to regular education, presumably because their State and local data systems were not prepared to process these data. Because percentages are based on the national child count for students 14 and older, nonreporting tends to lower national estimates slightly.

In a recent Michigan study, the authors analyzed data on the number and characteristics of students ages 6-26 who had returned to general education through declassification, and the results of a one-year followup of declassified students. Figure 1.3 shows the number of students declassified in Michigan by age and disability.


FIGURE 1.3 Number of Students Returning to General Education in Michigan, by Disability and by Age: 1993

[figure omitted


The largest numbers of students who were declassified were in the upper elementary age ranges, although declassification continued through early adulthood. The students declassified at younger ages were more likely to have speech or language impairments. Students declassified in secondary school were more likely to have learning disabilities or serious emotional disturbance (Carlson & Parshall,1995).

Michigan teachers and school counselors reported generally positive academic, social, and behavioral adjustments for declassified students who returned to general education programs. However, teachers and counselors of 11 percent of declassified students indicated that, in their opinion, the students continued to require special education services. Students with serious emotional disturbance were most likely to be perceived as in need of additional special education support (Carlson & Parshall, in press).

Students Who Died

During the 1993-94 school year, very few students with disabilities ages 14 and older died (0.1 percent) (see table 1.6). The highest annual death rates were reported for students with deaf-blindness (1.1 percent of all students ages 14-21 in this category), orthopedic impairments (0.5 percent), other health impairments (0.4 percent), and multiple disabilities (0.3 percent). The percentage of student deaths increased with student age.


TABLE 1.6 Number and Percentage of Students with Disabilities
14 and Older Exiting Special Education by Disability and Basis of Exit: 1993-94


Graduated with Diploma Graduated with Certificate Reached Maximum Age Returned to Regular Education Moved, Known to Be Continuing Moved, Not Known to Be Continuing Died Dropped Out Total
Specific learning disabilities 76,735
8.4
10,871
1.2
891
0.1
34,229
3.8
45,447
5.0
22,944
2.5
438
0.1
44,244
4.9
235,799
25.9%
Speech or language impairments 3,423
7.0
473
1.0
121
0.2
8,358
17.0
2,377
4.9
2,059
4.2
31
0.1
1,875
3.8
18,717
38.2%
Mental retardation 13,900
5.8
9,117
3.8
2,307
1.0
2,273
0.9
9,899
4.1
4,739
2.0
361
0.2
10,270
4.2
52,866
21.9%
Serious emotional disturbance 11,251
6.0
1,649
0.9
331
0.2
8,041
4.3
20,170
10.7
10,905
5.8
184
0.1
17,370
9.2
69,901
37.0%
Multiple disabilities 1,254
3.2
675
1.7
553
1.4
330
0.8
1,192
3.1
324
0.8
133
0.3
531
1.4
4,992
12.8%
Hearing impairments 2,209
9.7
391
1.7
48
0.2
518
2.3
896
3.9
370
1.6
11
0.1
570
2.5
5,013
22.0%
Orthopedic impairments 1,557
9.0
285
1.7
133
0.8
1,259
7.3
635
3.7
280
1.6
82
0.5
412
2.4
4,643
26.9%
Other health impairments 2,250
8.5
191
0.7
44
0.2
4,733
17.9
1,528
5.8
536
2.0
97
0.4
1,005
3.8
10,384
39.8%
Visual impairments 931
10.3
105
1.2
53
0.6
218
2.4
324
3.6
164
1.8
19
0.2
195
2.2
2,009
22.2%
Autism 169
2.9
120
2.1
80
1.4
51
0.9
148
2.6
75
1.3
3
0.1
55
1.0
701
12.1%
Deaf-blindness 34
6.0
26
4.6
8
1.4
11
1.9
32
5.6
17
3.0
6
1.1
8
1.4
142
24.9%
Traumatic brain injury 232
9.5
45
1.8
25
1.0
73
3.0
157
6.4
47
1.9
3
0.1
73
3.0
655
26.7%
All disabilities 113,945
7.5
23,948
1.6
4,594
0.3
60,094
4.0
82,805
5.5
42,460
2.8
1,368
0.1
76,608
5.1
405,822
26.8%

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Data Analysis System (DANS).


Students Who Moved

The effects of mobility on student performance are well documented. According to a 1994 study by the General Accounting Office, of the third graders who changed schools frequently, 41 percent achieved below grade level in reading, compared to 26 percent of third graders who had never changed schools. Students who changed schools four or more times by eighth grade were four times more likely to drop out than those who remained in the same school.

In the course of the year, 8.3 percent of all students with disabilities ages 14-21 moved to another district or State (see table 1.6). Of that 8.3 percent, 5.5 percent were known to be continuing their education in another district or State. There was insufficient information to determine whether the other 2.8 percent were enrolled in another district or State.

By far, students with serious emotional disturbances moved most often. Annually, 16.4 percent of all students ages 14-21 with serious emotional disturbance move, almost twice the rate of any other disability group. It is not clear if this rate occurs because students with serious emotional disturbance move in search of special education services, or for some other reason.

Students Who Dropped Out

The annual dropout rate for students with disabilities ages 14-21 was 5.1 percent (see table 1.6). Students with serious emotional impairments dropped out at higher rates than any other students with disabilities (9.2 percent of all students ages 14-21 in this category). Those with the lowest dropout rates included students with autism (1.0 percent), multiple disabilities (1.4 percent), and deaf-blindness (1.4 percent). Nineteen- and 20-year-olds were most likely to drop out (17.4 percent and 14.7 percent respectively), but a sizeable proportion of younger students also dropped out of school.

The annual dropout rate for students with disabilities at each individual age can be combined to estimate a cohort dropout rate. The cohort dropout rate estimates the percentage of students who will drop out over the course of their entire high school careers. Given current trends, approximately 26 percent of students with disabilities will drop out of school. 7

The U.S. Bureau of the Census (1995) collects data on annual and cohort dropout rates for students nationwide. The Census Bureau reports an annual dropout rate of 5 percent for students in grades 10-12, the same as the rate for students with disabilities ages 14-21, and a cohort rate of 13.3 percent for persons ages 14-24. The discrepancy in cohort rates may be a result of differences in dropout recovery rates among students with (26 percent) and without (13.3 percent) disabilities, which directly influence the cohort dropout rate, but not the annual rate. Data suggest that dropouts with disabilities are far less likely than dropouts without disabilities to eventually earn their high school diploma.


6 For individual States, percentages of students exiting in low incidence disability categories may sum to over 100 percent. This is due to the fact that exit data are collected over a 12-month period, while child count data are collected for a single day, December 1. As a result, students ages 14-21 who enter special education after December 1, and exit prior to December 1, may appear in the numerator (exiters), but not in the denominator (child count).

7 Based on 1993-94 data presented above, annual event dropout rates for ages 14-17 and 18-21 are 0.9 percent, 1.8 percent, 5.2 percent, 7.8 percent, and 13.2 percent, respectively. If one begins with a group of 1,000 14-year-olds, 0.9 percent (9) drop out at age 14 and 991 remain. Of those remaining, 1.8 percent (18) drop out at age 15; 973 remain. At age 16, 5.2 percent (51) drop out, leaving 922. At age 17, 7.8 percent (72) drop out and 850 remain. From ages 18-21, 13.2 percent (112) drop out, leaving 738. The cumulative dropout rate is (9+18+51+72+112)/1,000=26.2 percent.
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[Number and Disabilities of Children and Youth Served Under IDEA, Part B] [Table of Contents] [Services Anticipated to be Needed by Exiting Students with Disabilities: Results of the Second PASS Field Test]