The shift from high school to college, or from higher education to the workforce, is harrowing enough, but for the 6 million students diagnosed with a disability, the stakes are higher and the transition is all the more challenging.
That’s the big takeaway from Diplomas Count, Education Week’s annual spotlight on trends in high-school completion. This year’s package includes nearly 20 articles, student profiles, and data tools that dissect the major themes concerning students with disabilities as they consider what’s next after high school.
From weaker support systems on college campuses and workplaces, to pervasive misunderstandings about their specific needs, students with disabilities are often playing catch-up with the rest of the population. While improvements are underway to foster a more accommodating environment for those with disabilities like dyslexia or visual impairment, more can and should be done.
But some states stand out above others in their efforts to smooth the entry into higher education or the labor force for a student with a disability, serving as a model for others to put in place the programs and personnel experts say are needed.
To be clear, the nation has made major strides in providing an education for students requiring specialized support. As recently as the early 1970s, just one-fifth of students with disabilities were enrolled in public schools. Today, some 82 percent of students considered disabled are “mainstreamed,” Education Week notes, meaning they spend a substantial amount of instructional time in classrooms with students without disabilities. Still, while the national high school graduation rate exceeded 80 percent in 2013, students with disabilities completed high school at a rate of 62 percent. The graduation rates vary by states: Mississippi and Nevada graduated less than 30 percent of their students with disabilities in 2013; Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and Texas graduated at least 75 percent of their disabled student population that year.