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Dropout Rates in the United States: 1995

Dropping Out and Disabilities


Although they are often held to the same standard as the general population, students with disabilities must overcome serious obstacles that can interfere with their education. To graduate from high school, students with disabilities may need to work harder, study longer, or possess greater academic ability than their peers without a corresponding physical, emotional, or learning handicap. The added work and frustration associated with a disability can take its toll over time: national and local studies reveal that youths with disabilities drop out of school at higher rates than the general population.\46\

In 1995, young adults with reported disabilities accounted for 6.9 percent of the population and 8.5 percent of the dropouts in the 16- through 24-year-old age group (table 29).\47\ As a result, students with disabilities were more likely to have dropped out than students without disabilities (14.6 percent versus 11.8 percent).

Disability Type

Learning disabilities were the most commonly reported disability, affecting 2.2 percent of the population, or one-third of the disabled youths in this age group. The dropout rate for this group was 17.6 percent.\48\ The aggregate dropout rate for the two-thirds of disabled youths with other types of disabilities was 13.2 percent; however, there is considerable variation in the dropout rates when each disabling condition is considered separately. Young adults reported with mental or emotional disabilities were at an increased risk of dropping out. In particular, 56.1 percent of the 16- through 24-year-olds reported with mental illness, 31.1 percent of those reported with mental retardation, and 23.6 percent of those reported with a serious emotional disturbance had dropped out of school by 1995.

Table 29-Rate, number, and distribution of status dropouts, ages 16-24, by disabling condition(s): October 1995

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  Number of
                                     Status         status                          Percent      Percent
                                     dropout       dropouts         Population       of all         of
Characteristics                       rate      (in thousands)    (in thousands)    dropouts    population
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total                                 12.0          3,876             32,379         100.0        100.0
Disability status
 No disability                        11.8          3,548             30,129          91.5         93.1
 Disabled                             14.6            328              2,250           8.5          6.9
  Specific learning disabilities      17.6            128                726           3.3          2.2
  Learning only                       15.7             88                557           2.3          1.7
  Learning & other                    23.7             40                169           1.0          0.5
  All other disabilities              13.2            201              1,524           5.2          4.7
Type of disabling condition*
 Blindness                            16.9              7                             0.2          0.1
 Other vision impairment               6.6             35                530           0.9          1.6
 Deafness                             15.6             10                 65           0.3          0.2
 Other hearing impairment                                                                        
 Orthopedic impairment                14.2             30                209           0.8          0.6
 Serious emotional disturbance        23.6             38                159           1.0          0.5
 Speech impairment                    15.8             22                136           0.6          0.4
 Specific learning disability         17.6            128                726           3.3          2.2
 Mental retardation                   31.1             50                162           1.3          0.5
 Mental illness                       56.1             25                             0.6          0.1
 Other health impairment
  or serious illness                  16.3             85                523           2.2          1.6
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------    
-Insufficient sample size
* Some individuals have more than one disabling condition.
NOTE: Because of rounding, details may not add to totals.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October 1995,
unpublished data.

Disability and Individual Characteristics

Overall, dropout rates for male and female 16- through 24-year-olds are comparable, and this relationship holds for students with disabilities as well as those without (table 30).

Table 30-Rate and distribution of status dropouts, ages 16-24, by sex and disabling condition(s): October 1995

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Number of
                             Status         status                          Percent      Percent
                             dropout       dropouts         Population        of            of
Characteristics               rate      (in thousands)    (in thousands)    dropouts    population
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    Males
Total                         12.2          1,998             16,208         100.0        100.0
 No disability                11.8          1,765             14,913          89.2         92.0
 Disabled                     16.5            213              1,295          10.8          8.0
  Learning only               17.4             66                380           3.3          2.3
  Learning & other            25.0             26                103           1.3          0.6
  All other disabilities      14.9            121                812           6.1          5.0
                                                   Females
Total                         11.7          1,868             16,170         100.0        100.0
 No disability                11.7          1,783             15,216          93.9         94.1
 Disabled                     12.1            115                955           6.1          5.9
  Learning only               12.1             21                178           1.1          1.1
  Learning & other            21.6             14                 65           0.7          0.4
  All other disabilities      11.2             79                712           4.2          4.4
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------    
NOTE: Because of rounding, details may not add to totals.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October
1995, unpublished data.
White youths with disabilities are more likely to drop out than those with no disabilities. However, race-ethnicity differences evident between black and white young adults in the general population are repeated among students with disabilities, with black disabled students at an increased risk of dropping out (table 31).

Table 31-Rate and distribution of status dropouts, ages 16-24, by race-ethnicity and disabling condition(s): October 1995

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   Number of
                                      Status         status                          Percent      Percent
                                      dropout       dropouts         Population        of            of
Characteristics                        rate      (in thousands)    (in thousands)    dropouts    population
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            White non-Hispanic
Total                                   8.6          1,887              24,661        100.0        100.0
 No disability                          8.2          1,671              22,664         88.6         88.5
 Disabled                              12.5            216               1,997         11.4         11.3
  Learning only                        16.6             76                 546          4.0          4.0
  Learning & other                     22.7             30                 159          1.6          1.6
  All other disabilities                9.6            111               1,292          5.9          5.9
                                                            Black non-Hispanic
Total                                  12.1            571               5,362        100.0        100.0
 No disability                         11.3            507               5,066         88.8         88.8
 Disabled                              25.1             64                 296         11.2         11.2
  Learning only                                                                                  
  Learning & other                                                                               
  All other disabilities               25.2             42                 194          7.4          7.3
                                                                 Hispanic
Total                                  30.0          1,345               4,976        100.0        100.0
 No disability                         30.4          1,301               4,751         96.7         96.7
 Disabled                              21.8             44                 226          3.3          3.3
  Learning only                         0.0              0                  38          0.0          0.0
  Learning & other                      0.0              0                  13          0.0          0.0
  All other disabilities               27.1             44                 175          3.3          3.3
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------    
-Insufficient sample size
NOTE: Because of rounding, details may not add to totals.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current Population Survey, October 1995,
unpublished data.
The patterns are different for Hispanic young adults. Only 3.3 percent of these youths were reported with identified disabilities; none of them were reported with learning disabilities. In contrast, about 11 percent of both white and black young adults were reported with disabilities. Among those with disabilities, one-third of the white youths had specific learning disabilities.

Like other students who have been held back in school, retained students with disabilities are more likely to drop out than their peers who have not repeated a grade (table 32). However, disabled youths who are retained in school are at no greater risk of being non-disabled youths who repeated a grade in school. This seems to be the case for those with either a learning or learning and some other type of disability.

Table 32-Status dropout rates for 16- to 24-year-olds by retention status and disabling condition(s): October 1995

----------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   Dropout rate
                                           --------------------------- 
                              Percentage             Never
Characteristics                retained     Total  retained  Retained
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Total                            12.0       12.0     10.1      24.1
 No disability                   12.0       11.8     10.1      24.4
 Disabled                        29.8       14.6     11.2      22.6
  Learning only                  49.1       15.7     12.9      18.7
  Learning & other               47.9       23.7     28.7      18.2
  All other disabilities         20.7       13.2      9.5      27.1
----------------------------------------------------------------------    
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Current
Population Survey, October 1995, unpublished data.
On the face of things, when the aggregate dropout rates for disabled youth who were never retained are compared to the dropout rate for students with disabilities who were never held back in school, many of the disabled students appear to do as well as students without disabilities.\49\

Summary

Youths with disabilities are at greater risk of dropping out of school. In 1995, 14.6 percent of all disabled youth were dropouts, compared to 11.8 percent of their peers without disabilities. Dropout rates vary, however, with the nature and severity of a disability, with youths with mental or emotional disabilities at the highest risk of dropping out.

Overall, dropout rates for disabled male and female 16- through 24-year-olds are comparable, and this relationship holds for students with different types of disabilities. Race-ethnicity differences observed between black and white young adults in the general population are repeated among students with disabilities, with black disabled students at an increased risk of dropping out.

Disabled youths who were retained in school were at no greater risk of dropping out than non-disabled youths who repeated a grade in school. This seems to be the case for those with either a learning or learning and some other type of disability.


Footnotes:

46/   For a review of other work, see for example: Youth with Disabilities: How are they Doing? Washington, D.C.: Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, 1991; Hidden Youth: Dropouts from Special Education Washington, D.C.: Council for Exceptional Children, 1991; How Well are Youth with Disabilities Really Doing? A Comparison of Youth with Disabilities and Youth in General. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, 1992.

47/  The reader should keep in mind that the data come from a household informant and may not necessarily come from the young adults themselves.

48/  One quarter of the learning disabled in this age group reported at least one additional disability and the dropout rate for them was 23.7 percent. The comparable rate for those only reporting learning disabilities was 15.7 percent.

49/  The possible exception is the small group with both a learning disability and a second disability.



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