Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Research on graduation of students with specific disabilities

We have long known that students with disabilities do not graduate at the same rate as students without disabilities. NCLB's core ideas around subgroup assessment acknowledged this achievement gap and wanted to push programs to better meet the needs of all students. New rules governing how graduation rates are reported has made the reported numbers more compareable. Overall graduation rates are not where we wish they were. Overall graduation rates Rochester, NY, the nearest city to where I live, consistently lie well under the 50% mark. We know that issues that put children at risk of not graduating on time include poverty, single parent households, changing schools/student mobility, parents without a high school diploma, English language leaners and yes- disability. Vanessa Barrat, BethAnn Berliner, Adam Voight, Loan Tran, Chun-Wei Airong Yu, and Min Chen- Gadgini dug deep into Utah's graduation information to identify what difference there were in disability  categories related to graduation outcomes in their report School mobility, dropout, and graduation rates across student
disability categories in Utah.

What they discovered was mostly expected, by me anyway. Here are some of the highlights:
  1. Approximately 1 in 5 general education students dropout whereas 1 in 4 students with disabilities drop out with students with emotional disabilities (ED) leading the pack at twice the rate of nondisabled peers
  2. Students with multiple disabilities (MD), intellectual disabilities (ID), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and (ASD) had lower graduation rates and continuing their education in school past grade 12.
  3. Students with hearing impairments and speech and language impairments (SLI) had graduation rates on par with their nondisabled peers and were more likely than students with other disabilities to be in a grade consistent with their age.
  4. Students with ED had the highest rates of changing schools- approximately 3 times that of the general education population
  5. Students with disabilities were approximately 50% more likely to change schools than the general education population, but students with MD and SLI were significantly less likely to experience school change

Why are these not a surprise?
1. drop out rates: Students who struggle are more likely to decide to quit than to persevere when compared with their peers. This is especially true for students who are facing the knowledge that they cannot graduate with their peers because of credit concerns. It makes sense that ED population has the highest rate of students who run away and are more likely to come from the most challenging home life situations. When you struggle to respond socially-emotionally the way a typical peer will you find school a less appealing place than your peers do. When your ability to control your behavior is challenging- you miss classes, are less likely to pass and are more likely to be suspended. If you hate school or are allowed to be home alone, suspension may be a holiday to these kids.

2. The more complicated your disability the more time it takes for you to learn and consequently the more likely it is that you will need more years to meet the requirements graduation or, if you are functioning significantly grade level, you may just age out of the system. Since school is about compliance and verbal/math skills. People who lack strengths in these areas will not be as successful as their peers.

3. Students with hearing impairments or SLI are more likely to have average cognitive functioning than those with MD, ID, TBI, and ASD. We have good supports for helping these groups.

4 and 5. The more often you change schools the more likely you will not fit . Developing social bonds helps students be successful. When students do not form bonds with peers and adults, they are more likely to learn maladaptive behaviors. When a family is dealing with a child with MD, once they find what they determine to be a good place, they are more likely to stay there because they know the challenges mobility creates for them.

The next question is so what? This study did not go into that idea. For some the information we should not be surprised and probably need no interventions. MD students functioning at levels far below age level will likely never be able to attain a high school diploma and the goal should be as satisfying a life as possible. When you talk about non-mobile, nonverbal, ID individuals, you are not talking about independence, but this is a small piece of the disabled population.

How do we address the students who drop out. What interventions  we put into place to help the students with average cognitive capacity  a diploma- the key to the door of many post school opportunities? Clearly we need to focus on our ED kids. They need support that does not begin in high school.
  • Their families need help dealing with the concerns that are present. Connecting with housing and food aid so that poverty impact is minimized and housing insecurity is addressed. Safe community housing needs to be available. Assistance with job training, job acquisition and maintenance as needed. Help navigating health insurance supports. High quality, affordable day care needs to be available so that parents can work and go to school to support their children. Transportation issues need to be addressed.
  • Mental illnesses need adequate, early intervention. All too often there are inadequate therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to deal with children. Insurance companies limit treatment protocols. One adolescent I worked with was repeatedly discharged because insurance had run out rather than adequate treatment had been established. His emotional issues continued to spiral out of control. Guess what? It impacted his education. While expensive, inpatient treatment programs need to become more readily available to deal with drug addiction, issues around ting and food, and significant mental health needs must be provided before crisis points. Intense early treatment is far more effective than delayed crisis management.
  • Address the educational gaps formed when students have a history of mobility or poor attendance. This might mean providing summer school services for bringing students up toward grade level rather than maintenance and avoidance of regression.
  • Provide training and support so that teachers have the tools to try and reach these struggling students. We may say that it is great that co-taught classes exist and students are mainstreamed, but if the expectations are not present for the students with disabilities, what is the point? Smaller classes and extra instructional time may be necessary for these kids to learn. I remember one of my early special ed classes in college going over the disability categories. Most included the characteristic of they need longer to learn the same material as their age peers. In part, that is why students with disabilities can attend school through age 21. They need more time. Some may never be able to attain a diploma, but with extra time, many will.
  • Normalize alternative paths to graduation- this could be a five/six year plan, career training, or summer school.
  • Begin early with birth to 5 programing to help children learn language skills, provide adequate nutrition and health care, and housing security.

We know the steps. We have learned the target subgroups. We just need to harness the will to make it happen. It is doable, just not with a four year, high school building target.

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