Policy and Practice Implications for Secondary and Post-Secondary Education and Employment for Students with Disabilities

A National Leadership Summit on Improving
Results for Youth
Policy and Practice
Implications for Secondary
and Postsecondary Education
and Employment for Youth
With Disabilities
September 18 and 19, 2003
Washington, DC
Improving Graduation Rates Through
Dropout Prevention Strategies That Work
Camilla (Cammy) Lehr
National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Institute on Community Integration
University of Minnesota
September, 19, 2003
NCSET Leadership Institute
Preventing Dropout: A Critical and
Immediate National Goal
Approximately 1 in 8 children in the United States never
graduate from high school (Children’s Defense Fund, 2001)
Based on calculations per school day, one high school
student drops out every nine seconds (Children’s Defense
Fund, 2001)
Recent statistics representing the percentage of eighth
grade students who graduate five years later range from a
low of 55% in Florida to a high of 87% in New Jersey
(Greene, 2002)
Current Data on Exit
Dropout Rate for Students Served Under IDEA,
Part B for school year 2000-2001 (OSEP)
29% of students with disabilities dropped out of school
Rate based on number of students ages 14-21 leaving
“Dropped out” is defined as the total who were enrolled at
some point in the reporting year and were not enrolled at
the end of the reporting year. Category includes dropouts,
runaways, GED recipients, expulsions, status unknown and
other exiters.
Current Data on Exit
This rate (29%) compares with 34% for the
1995-96 school year
Highest rate of dropout for students with disabilities
by state is 70% (Hawaii)
28% of students with learning disabilities; 53% of
students with emotional disturbance dropped out
Highest rate of dropout by race/ethnicity for
students with disabilities is 41% for American
Indian/Alaska Native
Added Impetus for Addressing Dropout
Significant costs to individuals who do not complete school
Significant costs to society
No Child Left Behind holds schools accountable for student
progress using indicators of adequate yearly progress
including measures of academic performance and rates of
school completion
Students with disabilities are required to participate in
standards based reform and accountability systems
27 states are in the process of implementing high stakes
assessments used to determine whether students can
graduate from school with a regular diploma
The Question
What do we know that is research based and
how can that information be used to inform
practice and improve graduation rates?
Five Strategies
Establish Procedures to Accurately
Measure Rates of School Completion
Need for consistency in definition
Formulas for calculating dropout vary and commonly yield
 Annual rates
 Status rates
 Cohort rates
Comparisons across time and student groups may yield faulty
Dropout rates do not simply or directly translate to an accurate
graduation rate
Impact of mobility on tracking students accurately
Increased awareness of the issues will assist in developing sound
procedures for measuring progress
Identify Students Who Are Placed
At Risk Based on Multiple Variables
Variables associated with dropout have been categorized
according to the extent to which they can be influenced to
change the trajectory leading to dropout
 Status variables are unlikely to change (e.g.
socioeconomic standing, disability, family structure)
 Alterable variables are more amenable to change and
can be influenced by students, parents, educators and
community members
Alterable variables identified for students with disabilities
include high rates of absenteeism, course failure, low
participation in extracurricular activities, negative attitudes
towards school, alcohol or drug problems).
Presence of multiple factors increases the risk of dropout
Implement Interventions Designed to
Address Alterable Variables
School level alterable variables associated with school completion
for students with disabilities (Wagner, Blackorby & Hebeler, 1993)
 Providing direct, individualized tutoring and support to
complete homework assignments
 Support to attend class, and stay focused on school
 Participation in vocational education classes
 Participation in community based work experience programs
and training for competitive employment
Push effects – situations or experiences within the school
environment that aggravate feelings of alienation, failure and
dropout (e.g., raising standards without providing supports,
suspension, negative school climate)
Pull effects – factors external to the school environment that
weaken or distract from the importance of school completion
(e.g., pregnancy)
Ground Interventions in a Sound
Conceptual Understanding of Dropout
Dropping out of school is a process of disengagement that begins
Theoretical conceptualizations have pointed to the important role
of student engagement in school and learning (participation,
identification, social bonding, personal investment in learning)
Engagement is a multi-dimensional construct involving
associated indicators and facilitators (academic, behavioral,
A focus on enhancing students connection with school and
facilitating successful school performance is a promising
approach for improving school completion.
Current Conceptualizations of Dropout to Inform
Intervention Design and Implementation
School completion encompasses a broader view than
simply preventing dropout. Interventions that
promote school completion are characterized by:
A strength based orientation
Comprehensive interface of systems
Implementation over time
Meeting individual needs by creating a personenvironment fit
A focus on promoting a good outcome, and building
skills – not simply preventing a bad outcome
Addressing core issues associated with student
alienation and disengagement from school
Identify Interventions that Show
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is not one best program
“It is unlikely that a program developed elsewhere can be duplicated
exactly in another site, because local talents and priorities for school
reform, the particular needs and interests of the students to be
served, resources available, and the conditions of the school to be
changed will differ.” (McPartland, 1995)
Consider examples in relation to the needs, demographics, resources
and other circumstances of local schools or districts.
Claims of effectiveness must be supported by adequate research
and/or evaluation
Recent efforts are focused on beginning to identify key components
across programs that are effective in promoting school completion
(e.g. persistence, relationships, monitoring progress)