Report Targets Graduation Rates for Students With Learning Disabilities

A new report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) finds significant differences in high school graduation rates for students with specific learning disabilities and argues that offering variations on a regular diploma actually result in fewer of these students graduating. 

Students with learning disabilities make up the largest group of students (more than 2.2 million) eligible for special education services in the nation’s public schools but, according to NCLD Executive Director James Wendorf, only 68 percent of these students graduate with a regular diploma each year. In Massachusetts, just under 80 percent of students with a specific learning disability graduated with a regular diploma in the 2010-11 academic year.

The NCLD report reveals significant differences in graduation rates across the states and the multiple barriers that students with disabilities face in earning a high school diploma. Researchers have found that as early as elementary school, educators make decisions about students with learning disabilities that can take them off track from receiving a regular high school diploma. Among the report's major findings:

• The graduation rate varies from as high as 91 percent to as low as 25 percent for students with specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia or dyscalculia). In three states (Nevada, South Carolina and Louisiana), more students with learning disabilities drop out than graduate with a diploma.

• Graduation rate accountability is critical to raising low graduation numbers of students with learning disabilities.

• Multiple diploma options in some states can increase the likelihood of students with disabilities not graduating with a regular diploma.

• 88 percent of students with learning disabilities expect to graduate with a regular diploma.

• Schools should not make decisions early in a student’s career to take them off the regular diploma track.

The NCLD report, entitled Diplomas at Risk, recommends that state and federal policy makers improve the graduation rate of students with specific learning disabilities by:

• Maintaining and improving the existing requirement of a four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate as an accountability tool for students with learning disabilities. The adjusted rate would require each high school to divide the number of students who graduate in four years by the number of students who entered the school four years earlier (so that students transferring in or out, dropouts and other factors would be taken into account).

• Limiting multiple diploma options which can lead to lower graduation rates.

• Giving states incentives for reducing the large variation in graduation rates for students with learning diabilities.

• Eliminating practices by schools which encourage early decisions that take students with learning disabilities off track for earning a regular diploma.

More information about NCLD can be found at See the full NCLD report at

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19 May 2013