Indicators of Dropout for Students with Disabilities

In our previous post, we noted that the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) identified four predictors of risk for dropout during ninth grade: course grades, course failures, absences, and “on-track” status.[1]  This post explains how these indicators apply to students with disabilities.

Course Grades:

According to the CCSR report, What Matters for Staying On-Track and Graduating in Chicago Public Schools: A Focus on Students with Disabilities (2009), students with a 2.0 GPA or higher are likely or highly likely to graduate, but every half point lower indicates a more serious risk of dropout.  Only one-quarter to one-third of students with an average GPA of 1.0 graduated within five years.  Students with disabilities often have lower GPAs and therefore have higher risk of dropout.  In Chicago, students with physical/sensory disabilities (including hearing impairments), and students with speech/language disabilities had an average GPA of 2.0.  Students with learning disabilities and mild cognitive disabilities had an average of 1.6, and students with emotional disturbances had an average of about 1.1.  Schools and districts can use data about student GPAs to identify students with disabilities who may be at risk for dropout.

Course Failures:

Course failures were also found to be a strong predictor of graduation.  In Chicago, 86 percent of students with disabilities who had no course failures graduated within five years, but with only one or two course failures, the percentage of students that graduated was reduced by 20 percent.  Course failure is a particularly strong indicator of dropout for students with emotional disturbance, as the graduation rate for students with emotional disturbance who had failed one to two courses was only 33 percent.  Students with disabilities who fail even one course may be at risk of dropout.


Absences are also a strong indicator of graduation for students with and without disabilities.  Students with learning disabilities and mild cognitive disabilities who had been absent between 0 and 4 days had graduation rates of 90 percent or higher.  Graduation rates dropped to 55 percent or below for students with these disabilities with 10 to 14 absences.  Higher absence rates may be an important factor explaining why students with disabilities fail more classes and have lower grades than students without identified disabilities.

“On Track” Status:

Students who fail no more than one core course and accumulate at least 5 full course credits during freshman year are considered “on-track.”  These students are at least four times more likely to graduate than students who have failed two or more or have not accumulated 5 course credits during ninth grade.  CCSR found the “on track” status to be equally or more predictive of graduation for students with disabilities.  Students with emotional disturbance who were “on track” were almost six times more likely to graduate than “off track” students. 

Our next post will offer some recommendations to increase the graduation rate of students with disabilities.

See other posts in this series:

"Raising the Graduation Rate for Students with Disabilities: Recommendations"
Identifying Students with Disabilities Who Are At Risk for Dropping Out of High School

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

[1] Gwynne, J., Lesnick, J., Hart, H. M., & Allensworth, E. M. (2009, December). What matters for staying on-track and graduating in Chicago Public Schools: A focus on students with disabilities. Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research, University of Chicago.


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