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College- and career-ready expectations for students with disabilities

November 17th, 2016

New report analyzing the diplomas available to students with disabilities in each state for the graduating class of 2015.

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Achieve and the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) released “Diplomas that Matter: Ensuring Equity of Opportunity for Students with Disabilities,” a new report analyzing the diplomas available to students with disabilities in each state for the graduating class of 2015. The report also compares the course and assessment requirements for earning a regular diploma in each state for students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities.

Although an estimated 85 to 90 percent of students with disabilities can, with the proper instruction, supports, and accommodations, meet the same graduation standards as all other students, the national graduation rate for students with disabilities has risen from 56.9 percent in 2006 only to 66.3 percent in 2014. In addition to these low graduation rates, questions persist as to whether students with disabilities are being given access to a rigorous course of study that will prepare them for college and career. States do a disservice to students with disabilities when they are not given the opportunity to earn a regular diploma with adequate supports or when they are held to lower expectations.

Achieve and NCEO’s analysis suggests that expecting less of students with disabilities, through a less rigorous diploma offering, does them a disservice because they leave school thinking that they are ready for college or career when they are likely not prepared.

“This report will help unravel some of the complicated ways in which students with disabilities are counted in graduation rates and lays bare some of the misconceptions that exist about what it means when a student with disabilities graduates,” said Martha Thurlow, NCEO’s Director.

“College and career readiness is a matter of importance for all students, including those with disabilities,” said Sandy Boyd, Chief Operating Officer of Achieve. “States need to make sure that students with disabilities are provided the opportunity to earn a regular diploma. Appropriate access, supports, and accommodations are key, but the vast majority of students with disabilities are capable of achieving college and career readiness alongside their peers. We owe it to them, as to all students, to ensure they are prepared.”

In 26 states and the District of Columbia, the only diploma available to students with disabilities was the state’s regular diploma. In 24 states, additional diplomas were available exclusively for students with disabilities. Diplomas that are offered exclusively to students with disabilities differ widely across states and may have less demanding expectations than a state’s regular diploma.

In addition to recommending that states create a system that enables students with disabilities to meet the same requirements as their peers without disabilities, Achieve and NCEO argue for greater transparency about which diplomas are available for students with disabilities and what the requirements are for each option. Both regular diplomas and multiple diplomas can mask what individual students know and can do and what it took to earn the credential, potentially leaving students underprepared for their next steps. The full report is available here.

Material from a a press release was used in this report.

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