School & District Management

Are High School Students With Disabilities Prepared for Life After School?

By Christina A. Samuels — March 28, 2017 3 min read
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A new, two-volume report exploring the experiences of students with disabilities was released today, and there’s enough information here to keep special educators reading for a long time.

The reports compile information from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012, which is explored the characteristics and experiences of a representative sample of nearly 13,000 students, most of who have individualized education programs. The students, ages 13 to 21, and their families were surveyed in 2012 and 2013. Mathematica Policy Research and the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota led the investigation.

Volume 1 of the report compares students with disabilities to their typically developing peers. Among the findings:

  • Youth with an IEP are more likely than their peers to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and to face problems with health, communication, and completing typical tasks independently. However, a deeper dive into the numbers is instructive: Students with intellectual disabilities and emotional disturbances are more socioeconomically disadvantaged and are more likely to attend a lower-performing school than youth with an IEP overall. For youth with autism or a speech and language impairment, it’s the opposite: Those students tend to be more financially well-off and to attend higher-performing schools than their peers with IEPs overall.

  • Good news: The vast majority of youth with and without an IEP feel positive about school. Bad news: those with an IEP experience bullying and suspension at higher rates, and are less engaged in school and social activities.

  • A worrisome finding: Youth with an IEP are more likely than other youth to struggle academically, yet less likely to receive some forms of school-based support. Half of students with IEPs report having trouble with their classes. However, 72 percent report getting help before or after school or during the summer, compared to 78 percent of their typically developing peers. Students with disabilities said that 73 percent of youth with disabilities were guided by school staff on course selection, compared to 82 percent of students who do not have an IEP.

Volume 2 of the report compares students across disability categories. Among the interesting findings in this section:

  • Five groups—youth with autism, deaf-blindness, intellectual disability, multiple disabilities, and orthopedic impairments—appear to be at higher risk than all youth with an IEP for challenges making successful transitions from high school.

  • Useful information: there are seven characteristics in the study that are linked to post-high school success: performing the acts of daily living well; getting together with friends weekly; participating in a school sport or club; avoiding suspension; taking a college entrance or placement exam; having recent paid work experience; and having parents who expect the student to live independently. Youth with intellectual disabilities and multiple disabilities are less likely than their peers with disabilities to have six of those seven experiences. (However, students with intellectual or multiple disabilities are more likely to have never been suspended.)

  • Youth with emotional disturbances are the most likely disability group to be suspended, expelled, arrested, and bullied. Sixty-five percent have been suspended and 19 percent expelled, compared to 29 percent and 8 percent, respectively, of all students with an IEP.

The research offers a snapshot of student experiences; it does not come with policy prescriptions. But these findings suggest that schools and parents face a lot of challenges in raising expectations for students with disabilities.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.

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