Special Education

Early Intervention Helps Spec. Ed. Students, Report Says

By Lisa Goldstein — September 24, 2003 3 min read
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Children with disabilities who receive early-intervention services show “significant” developmental improvement after only one year, according to the Department of Education’s 24th annual report to Congress on the progress of special education.

Just a year after receiving such services, many infants and toddlers reached milestones in motor skills, self-help, communication, and cognition, the Sept. 10 report says. The children’s families also reported feeling better able to help their children learn and cope.

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See the accompanying chart, “How Special Education Students Fared.”

“This is yet another confirmation that the earlier we identify children with disabilities and provide highly effective evidence-based interventions, the better chance they have of reaching their full potential,” Robert H. Pasternack, the department’s assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, said in a statement

The 750-page report, “To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of All Children with Disabilities,” uses data from several sources, including the National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study, a department-led research effort that tracks 3,338 infants and toddlers with disabilities who received early-intervention services.

The report, “Twenty- Fourth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” is available from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs. (Sections require Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The report comes as Congress is working on the reauthorization of the landmark 1975 law, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, that guarantees students with disabilities the right to a free, appropriate public education.

Part of the law grants services to children from birth to age 2. Such assistance, currently offered to more than 268,000 children, may include speech and hearing services, family training, counseling, home visits, diagnostic medical services, occupational or physical therapy, and social and psychological services.

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Meanwhile, the report shows that the dropout rate for students with disabilities has continued to decline in recent years. For students in special education who are age 14 or older, the dropout rate fell from 34.1 percent in the 1995-96 school year to 29.4 percent in 1999- 2000.

But the dropout rate varied tremendously, depending on the category of disability.

In the 1999-2000 school year, 51.4 percent of students with emotional disturbances age 14 or older dropped out of school, the highest rate of all special education categories that year. Still, that year’s figure continued a steady rate of improvement for students with emotional disturbances. In the 1995-96 school year, 57.1 percent of such students dropped out of school, according to the report.

Meanwhile, 27.6 percent of students with specific learning disabilities who were age 14 or older dropped out in the 1999-2000 school year, down from 32.4 percent of such students in 1995-96.

The report says that the overall graduation rate for students with disabilities was 56.2 percent in 1999-2000, down slightly from 1998-99 because of underreported rates for that year. But it maintained steady improvement over the 1995-96 school year, when the graduation rate was 52.6 percent.

The graduation rate varied significantly from disability to disability, ranging from a low of 39.5 percent for students with mental retardation to a high of 73.4 percent for students with visual impairments.

Graduation and dropout rates also varied by race. The graduation rate was highest for white students, at 62.5 percent, followed by Asian-Pacific Islander students at 56.3 percent, and Hispanic students at 51.8 percent. Black students had the lowest graduation rate, 39.7 percent.

The dropout rate was 19.3 percent for Asian- Pacific Islander students and 26.5 percent for white students. The dropout rate for American Indian-Alaska Native students was the highest, at 44 percent. For black and Hispanic students, it was 37.0 percent and 33.1 percent, respectively.

According to the report, progress has continued to be made in the area of the inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms, an issue that previous annual reports have highlighted. For the 1999-2000 school year, 47.3 percent of students with disabilities who were enrolled in regular schools were served outside the regular classroom for less than 21 percent of the school day. Between 1990-91 and 1999-2000, the number of students served outside the regular classroom for less than 21 percent of the day increased by 87.1 percent.

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