New York City students enrolled in special education programs are earning high school diplomas at a rate far below that of their peers in the general education population, according to a study by Advocates for Children of New York.
The nonprofit group, which monitors the 1.1 million-student school system, analyzed data for more than 111,000 students in special education who left the New York City system between the 1996-97 and 2003-04 school years, whether they graduated, dropped out, or reached the age limit of 21. Over that eight-year period, an average of 11.84 percent of students in special education graduated with a state Regents diploma or a local diploma. For a Regents diploma, a student must earn a certain number of credits and pass the Regents exams. For a local diploma, a student must pass the Regents competency tests, a less rigorous alternative.
In the same time period, 12 percent of students in special education, on average, earned individualized-education-program diplomas, which are designed for students with severe disabilities. IEP diplomas confer none of the benefits of either a local or a Regents diploma, such as eligibility to enlist in the military or enroll in college.
About 15 percent of New York students received special education services in the 2004-05 school year, according to system statistics.
The study, released June 2, also attempted to categorize graduation rates by disability, although that information did not include all eight years. Students with emotional disturbances were the least likely to earn a Regents or a local diploma, according to the report. About 4 percent of students with emotional disturbances earned a Regents or local diploma over the time period spanning the 1999-2000 and the 2002-03 school years.
“What we saw was beyond horrendous,” said Jill Chaifetz, the executive director of Advocates for Children. “A tremendous amount of resources are going into special education services, and the results are not being reflected.”
‘A Lot of Work Ahead’
The advocacy group notes that more New York City special education students appear to be graduating with a Regents or local diploma in recent years. The proportion of special education students earning those types of diplomas rose from 12.84 percent in the 2002-03 school year to 15.96 percent in 2003-04.
Michele McManus Higgins, a spokeswoman for New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, said in a statement that the chancellor has “aggressively tackled the long-neglected area of special education services for our children.”
She referred to a recent results from citywide testing that showed improved test scores among city students with disabilities in the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. The percentage of such students scoring “not proficient” on the city math tests dropped from 76 percent in the 1998-99 school year to 53.1 percent in 2004-05. In language arts, the proportion of special education students in those grades scoring “not proficient” dropped from 62.1 percent in the 1998-99 to 43.2 percent in 2004-05.
David P. Riley, the executive director of the Newton, Mass.-based Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative, an organization of school district leaders, says that low graduation rates among students in special education is a nationwide problem. “Students with disabilities have historically dropped out at two to three times the rate of their nondisabled peers,” Mr. Riley said. “It’s a reflection of the historical separation of special education from the academic goals offered to the rest of the educational system.”
In 2003, the National Dropout Prevention Centers, a resource network for teachers and administrators working with children at risk of dropping out of school, formed a new branch: the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities, based at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. Loujeania Williams Bost, the director of the dropout-prevention center for students with disabilities, said the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which judges schools in part on how well they teach students with disabilities, has prompted states and districts to work harder to keep such students in school, Ms. Bost said.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us,” she said.