Diplomas Count 2015: Next Steps - Life After Special Education
Published Online: May 29, 2015
Published in Print: June 5, 2015, as Students With Disabilities, In School and Work
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Data Overview: Students With Disabilities, In School and Work

Nearly 6 million students with disabilities attend public schools in the United States. Roughly half of those students are in an age group traditionally served by secondary schools. The Education Week Research Center compiled data from the U.S. Department of Education in order to shed light on the high school achievement and post-high-school outcomes of students with special needs. The results highlight key patterns regarding the educational status of this population.

Population Profile | Gains on Tests, But Gaps Remain | High School Outcomes | Post-High-School Engagment

Population Profile

Students receiving special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act make up roughly 9 percent of all 6- to 21-year-olds. Nearly half of the students served by IDEA programs are between the ages of 12 and 17, an age range customarily associated with secondary education. The share of students with disabilities who are of secondary school age mirrors the general education population.

Source: Education Week Research Center, 2015. Analysis of data from U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs and U.S. Census Bureau (2013)

Gains on Tests, But Gaps Remain

While reading and math results on the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress have improved for students with disabilities over time, their scores remain substantially lower than those of their peers without disabilities. In 2013, students with disabilities scored 40 points lower than their counterparts in reading, with a similar gap in math.

Note: Scores are reported by disability status, including those with Section 504 plans. | Source: National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

High School Outcomes

Data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs indicate that nearly two-thirds of students with disabilities ages 14 to 21 exited high school with a regular diploma in the 2012-13 school year, up from 56.7 percent in 2005-06. Most of the students with special needs who did not receive that credential either earned an alternative certificate (14.4 percent), such as a certificate of completion, or dropped out of school (18.6 percent).

Note: Due to methodological differences in calculations, data on high school exit status shown here are not comparable to ACGR graduation rates presented elsewhere in this report. | Source: Education Week Research Center, 2015. Analysis of data from U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (2005-06, 2012-13)

Post-High-School Engagement

Most young adults with disabilities have been employed, participated in job training, or attended a postsecondary school following high school. Researchers for the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 report that a large share of those young adults had been engaged in some combination of those activities. For instance, 42 percent had both worked and been enrolled in postsecondary education. Only 6.2 percent had not been engaged in any type of educational or job-related activity.

Note: Details may not add up to 100 percent because of rounding. | Source: SRI International and U.S. Department of Education, 2011

Vol. 34, Issue 33
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