High School Programs as Perceived by Youth with Learning Disabilities

By: Larry Kottering and Patricia Braziel

Students with learning disabilities are more likely to leave high school before obtaining a diploma. An Office of Special Education study suggests that somewhere between 58 and 70% of students with LD complete high school. A 1999 study by Newburger and Curry offers a comparison stating that 90% of general education youth graduate. Included in this data, however, are students who complete the General Education Development (GED) degree. GED data suggests that almost half of all general education dropouts eventually complete the GED. This date, however, does not indicate what percent of those who do not complete, or even apply to take the GED after leaving high school from the general education program, may have in fact had an undiagnosed learning disability.

What is of special concern is how students perceive teaching strategies and high school programs. This is highly relevant to programs that work with youth who have not graduated. If adult basic education classes follow patterns of instruction all too familiar to youth who have left school it seems unlikely students who have dropped out will continue seeking a diploma. Many of these students know the economic costs that come to them and to their families when they enter the work force without a high school diploma. Still, completing school, seems an insurmountable task.

The study by Kortering and Braziel is important because it actually documents the perceptions of students with LD. The information they gathered can help teachers design interventions and learning strategies to help more students graduate from high school.

While this information provides important information about students with LD it is also valuable information for teachers who teach in general education programs as well.

Who participated?

185 students with identified learning disabilities were interviewed during the 1998/99 and 1999/00 school year. Students from two high schools that had a reputation for preparing students for college. 94% of youth with LD and both schools participated in the study.

Data analysis

Data analysis revealed four general response categories:

  1. What are the best and worst parts of school?
  2. What are the perceived advantages and disadvantages of staying in school?
  3. Changes that would really help the student stay in school.
  4. Examples of teachers that really helped with learning.

Summary of findings

Category Student responses.
Best and worst parts of school


  • Socializing with peers
  • Specific classes
  • Learning to get a good job or other forms of learning


  • Classes are boring or too hard.
  • School work is too hard or boring
  • Teachers
Advantages of staying in school
  • Get good job.
  • Get paid more.
Changes that would help you stay in school.
  • More individual help
  • Rule changes
  • Teacher Attitude
  • Personal changes- work harder.
Examples of good teachers
  • Pushed me
  • Hands on experiments. More hands-on activities
  • Explained stuff.

**Please note: Student responses in categories are summaries. The journal article provides greater depth of information.

Learning Disabilities Quarterly, Summer 2002, 177-189.