Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015 - (Page 15)

State Diploma Requirements Vary For students with disabilities, states have discretion on graduation policies I n 2011, the U.S. Department of Education directed states to use a uniform method of calculating high school graduation rates-a move intended to introduce true comparability to an important measure of school accountability. But when it comes to students with disabilities, the uniformity that policymakers sought disappears. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act permits students in special education to stay in school until age 21, even though the uniform calculation focuses on students who graduate in four years. States also have a say in determining what courses a student with a disability can take to meet diploma requirements. The implications are broader than just making it more difficult for researchers and policymakers to compare one state to another. Students with disabilities can potentially leave school with a "regular" diploma that includes coursework less rigorous than the work required of their typically developing peers. Most students covered under the idea do not have a disability that would indicate a need for lesschallenging coursework. Among students ages 6-21, 40 percent have "specific learning disabilities" such as dyslexia; another 18 percent are classified with a speech or language disability, and the 14 percent in the third biggest category have "other health impairments." That might include attention deficit hyperactive disorder, epilepsy, or diabetes. These numbers do not include smaller groups of students who are blind, deaf or have other disabilities, but not intellectual impairments. Experts believe these students may need supports, but not a less-rigorous curriculum. "Why aren't we looking at that more-why aren't we investing in a better understanding of the implications?" asked David R. Johnson, the director of the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who has surveyed states on their graduation requirements for students with disabilities. "I think there is so much that we have not unraveled on this that really needs to be looked at with a closer eye." WHAT IS 'STANDARD'? Graduation rates are now determined by counting how many 9th graders in a state leave school with a standard diploma four years later, with some wiggle room allowed for students who transfer into and out of their 9th grade cohort. The final calculation is known as the "adjusted cohort graduation rate." But what is a standard diploma? As of 2010-11, the most recent national research on the topic, more than half the states-36-allowed iep teams to have some level of input into what counts as a high school completion requirement for students with disabilities. That number comes from a survey of states conducted by Mr. Johnson and Martha L. Thurlow, the director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes, also based at the University of Minnesota. Graduation requirements change frequently, and a new survey is underway. But in the 2010-11 school year, states reported allowing students with disabilities to take easier substitute courses to count for credit, allowing them to skip end-of-course tests, or, alternatively, permitting them to earn a lower score on those end-of-course tests than their typically developing peers, but still receive a passing grade. States also are able to decide for themselves the definition of "student with a disability" for the purpose of calculating graduation rates. Some states consider any student who started high school in special education to be a student with a disability, while others may count only those who ended high school with an iep. A WIDER SPREAD The influence of those variables is seen in the range of graduation rates reported by states. For the 2012-13 school year, among the general student population, the lowest reported rate was 62 percent, in the District of Columbia, and the highest was 90 percent, in Iowa. The percentagepoint spread between the high and low rates is 28. Among students with disabilities that same school year, however, the low ranges from 23 percent in Mississippi to 80 percent in Arkansas- a 57 percentage-point spread. "There has been no scrutiny of what states and districts are doing regarding graduation requirements for students with disabilities," said Candace Cortiella, the founder of the Marshall, Va.-based Advocacy Institute and the author of a 2013 report "Diplomas at Risk." That report looked at how differing graduation requirements affected students with specific learning disabilities. Some scrutiny may be coming, however. Melody Musgrove, the director of the federal office of special education programs, said that the Education Department will ask some states to explain their graduation numbers. In addition to the adjusted cohort graduation rate, states have long had to report a "leaver rate" for students with disabilities to the federal government. That number is calculated differently from the adjusted cohort graduation rate, so federal officials do not expect an exact match, but did note some larger-than-expected discrepancies. "We're working with states to better understand those, and to better help states understand what the requirements mean," she said. But requiring that iep teams be dropped from the process of determining graduation requirements is not currently under consideration, said Ruth Ryder, the deputy director of the special education office. "Some states have alternate pathways to a regular diploma that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do related to the general curriculum. They would involve the iep team making that decision," Ms. Ryder said. "One of the things we've heard is that some people want us to say that anything that involves the iep in earning a regular diploma is bad, and we don't believe that's true. There are legitimate alternate pathways to a regular diploma that hold students with disabilities to high standards." s Coverage of the implementation of college and career-ready standards is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage. High school exit status by disability (ages 14-21) DIPLOMAS AND CERTIFICATES According to 2012-13 federal data, nearly 8 in 10 youths with disabilities, ages 14 to 21, completed high school with either a regular diploma or an alternative certificate, such as a certificate of attendance. Students with hearing (88.8 percent) or visual (88.3 percent) impairments are more likely to finish high school with a diploma or certificate than their peers with other types of disabilities. By contrast, students diagnosed as emotionally disturbed are substantially less likely to reach that milestone, with only 6 in 10 receiving a high school completion credential. NOTE: Because of 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 (2012-13) All disabilities Hearing impairment Visual impairment Autism Traumatic brain injury Speech or language impairment Orthopedic impairment Specific learning disability Other health impairment Intellectual disability Multiple disabilities Deaf-blindness Emotional disturbance 65.1 72.1 76.8 64.2 69.0 76.2 63.2 70.1 71.1 42.7 45.5 56.1 53.8 9.6 DIPLOMAS COUNT 2015 s 15 14.2 16.6 11.5 23.2 16.0 8.6 19.7 11.3 10.0 33.0 28.3 15.9 s s Graduated with regular high school diploma Received a certificate By Christina A. Samuels

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015

Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015
After Special Ed., Path Is Less Certain
DATA OVERVIEW: Students with Disabilities In School and Work
BY THE NUMBERS: Hearing Impairment
Md. Senior Opts For University Geared To Students With Hearing Impairments
In College, Students Face Choice: Seek Help or Go It Alone?
BY THE NUMBERS: Emotional Disturbance
At Lab School, Pennsylvania Student Prepares for Career In Culinary Arts
After K-12, Students Must Be Self-Advocates
BY THE NUMBERS: Specific Learning Disability
On Road to College, Georgia Student Learns To Speak for Herself
For Job-Oriented Students, Work Experience Is Critical
Discipline Policies Push Students Off College-and-Career Path
Budding Politician Sets Sights on College
State Diploma Requirements Vary
Common Core: Will Bar Rise For Students With Disabilities?
BY THE NUMBERS: Intellectual Disability
In Virginia, Jobs Enable Twin Brothers To ‘Walk Taller’ After High School
Graduation Rates Reach New Highs, But Gaps Remain
TABLE: Graduation Rate Tops 80 Percent
State-by-State Data

Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015