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General information about drop out rates

Research consistently demonstrates that students who stay in school to earn a high school diploma will earn more in their adult lives. Many express concern that the new, more rigorous standards will increase the number of students with learning disabilities who leave school before earning a diploma. Data on this topic is limited.This month we look at one state’s data.

Before looking at any research studies on drop out rates it is important to know that studies define school drop outs in different ways. This affects findings obtained.

Overall drop out rates nation wide for the year 2000 for high school students from are reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The good news is that in March, 1999, OSEP reported that 31% more students with disabilities received a high school diploma. The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) suggested in March 1997 that the key issue “for policy makers as they enact tougher requirements for the diploma is how to include students with disabilities.” Unfortunately there is little research that looks specifically at how many students with learning disabilities fail to graduate.

Phi Delta Kappa International offers more positive data on the outcome of students in general by comparing myths and actual statistics.

Myth: American schools are letting students slip through the cracks. More students are dropping out today than dropped out 25 years ago.

Fact: When the grandparents of today’s students entered adulthood, about half of the population (ages 25 through 29) had completed high school. Today, the figure exceeds 86%.

The state of Indiana study

The state of Indiana has looked at the impact of the Indiana Graduation Qualifying Exam (CQE) on students with learning disabilities (LD).

Reason for the study:

Concern that students with learning disabilities did not have adequate preparation for mandated state assessments. Parents of students with learning disabilities feared that the drop out rate for students with LD would increase. Many factors of concern were identified.

Who participated in the study?

Data reported was obtained from test results on the Indiana Graduation Qualifying Exam. Reported 1998 Enrollment for Kindergarten Through Grade 12 was 988,285. 15% of the students were identified as having a disability. 39% of those students had a learning disability. Compared to the total population of students, students with learning disabilities made up 6% of the students included in the study.


  • Dropout rates for students with LD were higher. In 1998 12% of total enrollment left school before graduation. 50% of students with LD dropped out.
  • Failure rates by students with LD may lead to discouragement that increases likelihood of dropping out.
  • Test results provide a baseline for comparison of future impact on required graduation qualifying exams. This is an important contribution to our understanding of what impact these tests may have on students with LD.

To learn more about dropouts: Understanding Droputs: Statistics, Strategies, and High-Stakes Testing, 2001, Committee on Educational Excellence and Test Equity

The Impact of the ISTEP+ Graduation Disabilities on Exam on Students with Learning Disabilities, by Education Matters Evaluation Committee, year 2000.
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