Raising the Graduation Rate for Students with Disabilities: Recommendations

In our most recent posts, we have examined indicators that can identify students with disabilities who are at risk of dropout.  In order to increase the graduation rate of students with disabilities, the National High School Center suggests the following recommendations:

1.  Focus on ninth grade achievement: To increase the graduation rate for students with disabilities, the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) recommends that educators support students with disabilities in passing ninth grade courses and getting higher grades, prioritize efforts to increase attendance among students with disabilities, and instruct students with disabilities on how to get more benefit from their study time.  Results showed that students with disabilities who spent the same time studying as their non-disabled peers got less benefit from their study time.  The ability to increase the benefit of study time could help students with disabilities pass more courses and get higher grades. 

2.  Foster a comprehensive approach: In order to decrease dropout rates, high performing high schools often implement comprehensive school reform.  Rather than implementing a few isolated initiatives, schools should strive to align and draw connections between elements of improvement.  The National High School Center has identified eight key elements of high school improvement which high schools should incorporate in their school improvement framework.  The eight elements are:

  • Rigorous Curriculum and Instruction
  • Teacher Effectiveness and Professional Growth
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Organization and Structure
  • Assessment and Accountability
  • Student and Family Involvement
  • Effective Leadership
  • Sustainability

Learn more about these eight elements in the National High School Center’s recently updated publication, Eight Elements of High School Improvement: A Mapping Framework, and assess progress towards implementing these elements with the National High School Center’s A Coherent Approach to High School Improvement: A District and School Self-Assessment Tool.

3.  Implement an early warning system: The National High School Center recommends using an early warning system (EWS).  An early warning system allows educators to identify students at risk of dropout, use data to make decisions about appropriate interventions, and monitor students’ response to those interventions.  The National High School Center used the indicators identified by CCSR to develop its Early Warning System (EWS) Tool v2.0 and accompanying user guides.  This Microsoft Excel-based tool is available free of charge for schools and districts who wish to identify students at risk of dropout.

It is not enough to know who is at risk; schools must use their data to provide targeted support to get at risk students on track to graduate.  The National High School Center’s EWS Tool v2.0 is designed to monitor and track students’ assignments to interventions. These features will help schools and districts coordinate services and closely track the participation of individual students in intervention programs and their response to those interventions.

A seven-step process is recommended in the Early Warning System Implementation Guide that creates a school-based teams to set up the program and use the EWS tool, analyze and review the data initially and at periodic intervals, assign interventions and monitor student progress and effectiveness of the interventions, and evaluate and refine the process.

See other posts in this series:

Indicators of Dropout for Students with Disabilities
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.

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