ERIC Identifier: ED295395
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Lichtenstein, Steve - Zantal-Wiener, Kathy
ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.
Special Education Dropouts. ERIC Digest #451.
Since the passage of Public Law 94-142, the provision of appropriate
educational services remains problematic for a substantial number of students
with handicaps. Students with a history of inadequate educational preparation
are more seriously handicapped as they "age-out" of school because of their
dependence on society and their uncertain future in the job market (Halpern,
1973; Hasazi, Gordon, and Roe, 1985; Mithaug and Horiuchi, 1983; Wehman, Kregel,
and Zoller, 1984). For high school students identified as handicapped, the
education program is often inadequate. Efforts to mainstream secondary level
students with disabilities vary widely as do levels of support. Issues regarding
integration remain soft spots in the policies and practices of many schools. It
is for this reason, in part, that high schools have the reputation of being
ill-defined concerning their purpose and seriously disjointed in their ability
to implement programs to serve the student with handicaps (Catalano, 1986; Howe,
Numerous citations in the literature depict the typical dropout as a person
with a wide range of learning problems (Beck and Muia, 1980). Despite the recent
growth of literature concerning high school dropouts, only a handful of studies
have focused on the higher than average incidence of dropping out among students
with handicapping conditions (Edgar, 1987; Hasazi, Gordon and Rowe, 1985;
Hippolitus, 1980; Levin, Zigmond, and Birch, 1985; Lichtenstein, 1987; Plisko
and Stern, 1985; St. Paul Public Schools, 1981). The Eighth Annual Report to
Congress (U.S. Department of Education, 1986) suggests that although many youths
with handicaps may graduate from school systems when they are as young as 17,
"...many others exit prior to the completion of the secondary program" (p. 14).
To further investigate this phenomenon, state education programs are now
required to collect data on the number of youths with handicaps who exit prior
to graduation as well as the reasons for exiting.
Recent state and local follow-up studies confirm this unexplainable attrition
rate among students with handicaps. These studies also strongly suggest that the
dropout rate among students receiving special education services significantly
exceeds the dropout rate among the general school-age population.
The St. Paul Public Schools conducted a retrospective examination of the
records of 4,500 students in attendance between 1974 and 1977 who left school
prior to graduation. They found that up to 80% of the youths who dropped out may
have been eligible for special education services. Hippolitus (1980) cited the
Bureau of Education for the Handicapped as documenting the dropout rate for
special education students at five to six times the rate of youths without
Findings of the second follow-up study--HIGH SCHOOL AND BEYOND, a national
longitudinal study--report higher dropout rates for students with mild to
borderline handicaps than for nonhandicapped students (19% vs. 14%,
respectively) (Plisko and Stern, 1985). (HIGH SCHOOL AND BEYOND dropout rates
must be considered conservative estimates due to the timing of the survey.) The
dropout rate for specific handicapping conditions ranges from a low of
approximately 19% for students with orthopedic impairments to a high of 37% for
students with learning disabilities (Lichtenstein, 1987). Hasazi and her
colleagues in Vermont (1985) report that 28% of a random sample of high school
special education students left school before age 18, and an additional 13% left
after age 18 without their diploma. In addition, Levin, Zigmond, and Birch
(1985) found that the dropout rate for students in Pittsburgh with learning
disabilities approached 51%, which far exceeded the 36% reported for the general
population during this period. The New Hampshire Special Education Information
System (SPEDIS) revealed a differentiated pattern of attrition among students
aged 15-21 with specific handicaps (Lichtenstein, 1988). Students identified as
having an emotional handicap dropped out at a rate of 57%, while students
classified as learning disabled left at a rate of 40%. Students with hearing and
speech impairments had an attrition rate of 38.5% and 36.4%, respectively. Among
all students with handicaps, the rate was reported at 40%. A study conducted
recently in California (Jay and Padilla, 1987) found a wide variation in dropout
rates for different disability groups, and according to the severity of a
student's disability within the group.
IMPLICATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The implications of these findings have special significance for educational
policy and practice. More systematic procedures for identifying potential
dropouts and better follow-through in providing comprehensive programs that
retain students with handicaps must be addressed.
Previous studies show that dropout-prone students need to be identified early
enough in their school careers to allow some form of positive intervention to be
initiated before students enter high school (Novak and Dougherty, 1979; Weber,
1986). For the issue of dropping out as a whole, Weber suggests a systematic
approach to identifying potential dropouts long before their entry into high
school. In addition, it is suggested that more specialized guidance and
counseling services should be made available to these students prior to their
entry into high school, at the time of entry, and throughout their high school
Educators should also be made aware of the factors which might lead students
to drop out. Rarely is such information collected and systematically used for
remedial programming and counseling. For special educators, it is imperative to
realize that students who are mildly handicapped and capable of being
mainstreamed are at greater risk of dropping out, especially those identified as
learning disabled, mentally retarded, emotionally handicapped, and hearing,
speech, or health impaired.
Further distinctions have been reported recently by Edgar (1987), who
suggests that students with more severe handicaps "...tend to be captives of the
system" (p. 557). This differentiation between those with mild handicaps and
others with severe disabilities appears to be substantiated by the New Hampshire
study, which suggests that students with multiple handicaps who are
predominantly educated in self-contained classrooms are much less likely to drop
out than their nonhandicapped and mildly handicapped peers (Lichtenstein, 1988).
Based on these findings, it may be necessary to reevaluate the effectiveness of
IEPs, the IEP planning process, and the degree to which special education can
effectively provide individualized attention in the least restrictive
environment. The early introduction of goals and objectives that address methods
of student retention and transition-related services appears justifiable.
Additional attention must be given to other aspects of the problem. Wehlage
and Rutter (1984) argue that the focus of new research should be directed
towards studying the "institutional character of school and how this affects the
potential dropout" (p. 376). Such policies and practices may have some
relationship to the quality of special services offered to youths with
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Beck, L., J. A. Muia. "A Portrait of Tragedy: Research Findings on the
Dropout." THE HIGH SCHOOL JOURNAL 64 (1980): 65-72.
Catalano, R. WINGSPREAD CONFERENCE ON THE EDUCATION OF STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL
NEEDS: RESEARCH FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR POLICY AND PRACTICE. Racine, WI:
Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, 1986.
Edgar, E. "Secondary Programs in Special Education: Are Many of Them
Justifiable?" EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 53 (1987): 555-561.
Halpern, A. "General Unemployment and Vocational Opportunities for EMR
Individuals." AMERICAN JOURNAL OF MENTAL DEFICIENCY 78 (1973): 123-127.
Hasazi, S., L. Gordon, and C. Roe. "Factors Associated with the Employment
Status of Handicapped Youth Exiting High School from 1979 to 1983." EXCEPTIONAL
CHILDREN 51 (1985): 456-469.
Hippolitus, P. "Mainstreaming: The True Story." DISABLED USA 3 (1980): 5-8.
Howe, H. "Giving Equity a Chance in the Excellence Game." Martin Buskin
Memorial Lecture. Washington, DC: Education Writers Association, 1984.
Jay, E. D., and C. L. Padilla. SPECIAL EDUCATION DROPOUTS: THE INCIDENCE OF
AND REASONS FOR DROPPING OUT OF SPECIAL EDUCATION IN CALIFORNIA. Menlo Park, CA:
SRI International, 1987.
Levin, E., N. Zigmond, and J. Birch. "A Follow-up Study of 52 Learning
Disabled Adolescents." JOURNAL OF LEARNING DISABILITIES 18 (1985): 2-7.
Lichtenstein, S. A STUDY OF THE POST-SCHOOL EMPLOYMENT PATTERNS OF
HANDICAPPED AND NONHANDICAPPED GRADUATES AND DROPOUTS. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. 1987.
Lichtenstein, S. DROPOUTS: PERSPECTIVES ON SPECIAL EDUCATION. Concord, NH:
Task Force for the Improvement of Secondary Special Education, 1988.
Mithaug, D., and C. Horiuchi. COLORADO STATEWIDE FOLLOW-UP SURVEY OF SPECIAL
EDUCATION STUDENTS. Denver, CO: Colorado State Department of Education, 1983.
Novak, J., and B. Dougherty. DROPOUT PREVENTION IN WISCONSIN: A REVIEW OF
PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Vocational Studies Center,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1979.
Plisko, V., and J. Stern, eds. THE CONDITION OF EDUCATION (1985 ed.).
Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics. U.S. Department of
St. Paul Public Schools. MODEL PROGRAM FOR HANDICAPPED OUT-OF-SCHOOL YOUTH:
1977-81. St. Paul, MN: St. Paul Public Schools, 1981. ED 191 233.
U.S. Department of Education. EIGHTH ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS ON THE
IMPLEMENTATION OF THE EDUCATION OF THE HANDICAPPED ACT. Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Education, 1986.
Weber, J. M. THE ROLE OF VOCATIONAL EDUCATION IN DECREASING THE DROPOUT RATE.
Columbus, OH: The National Center for Research in Vocational Education, The Ohio
State University, 1986.
Wehlage, G. G., and R. A. Rutter. DROPPING OUT: HOW MUCH DO SCHOOLS
CONTRIBUTE TO THE PROBLEM? Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for Education Research,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1984.
Wehman, P., J. Kregel, and K. Zoller. A FOLLOW-UP OF MENTALLLY RETARDED
GRADUATES' VOCATIONAL AND INDEPENDENT LIVING SKILLS IN VIRGINIA. Manuscript in
preparation. Richmond, VA, 1984.