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Published in Print: September 3, 2003, as Spec. Ed. Graduation Rates Steady

Spec. Ed. Graduation Rates Steady

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High school completion rates for students with disabilities have remained stable in recent years, despite concerns that states' increasing use of exit exams would result in higher dropout rates, according to a federal study.

But the effect of exit exams on such students is still largely unknown because states may exempt those students from the exams, offer modified exams, or award alternative graduation credentials that do not require an exit exam, says the report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

The July 31 report, called "Federal Actions Can Assist States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth," looks at the proportion of students with disabilities graduating with regular diplomas or alternative credentials.

During the 2000-01 school year, 57 percent of students in 12th grade with disabilities nationwide completed high school with standard diplomas, and another 11 percent completed high school with alternative credentials, such as certificates of attendance.

But the study found that students with certain types of disabilities were much less likely to complete high school with standard diplomas. Such students were more likely to receive alternative certificates or drop out, according to the GAO.

In that school year, about 28 percent of high school graduates with mental retardation received an alternative credential instead of a diploma, compared with 11 percent for the overall population of students with disabilities.

Some Data Lacking

Dropout rates for students with emotional disturbances, meanwhile, were generally more than twice as high as for students with other disabilities.

More than half of the students with emotional disturbances that should have graduated in 2000-01, dropped out that school year compared with one-fourth or fewer of their peers with other disabilities, the study found.

"The percentage of students with disabilities who complete high school still lags behind the percentage of nondisabled students completing high school," said Lynda Van Kuren, a spokeswoman for the Council for Exceptional Children, an advocacy group in Arlington, Va.

Where students with disabilities went after leaving high school was "difficult to determine" because of a lack of data, the report says. Fewer than half the states routinely collect data on students' employment or education status after graduation, it says, and existing data have limitations.

Vol. 23, Issue 1, Page 35

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