In an effort to document the secondary school experiences and postsecondary outcomes of students with disabilities over the last two decades, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) sponsored two longitudinal research studies 15 years apart. The first study, the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) generated nationally representative information about secondary-school-age youth who were receiving special education services in 1985. To assess the status of youth with disabilities in the early 21st century, ED commissioned the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) to generate nationally representative information about secondary-school-age youth who were receiving special education services in 2000. NLTS2 addresses many of the same issues as NLTS, but extends its scope.
The tremendous range and scale of changes in American society and its economy that occurred in the years between NLTS and NLTS2 are reflected in many aspects of our lives. Increasing diversity in our population and family structures, innovations in communication and information technologies, and the globalization of the economy are only a few of the many trends that have had far-reaching impacts on all of us. Other changes particularly affect students, such as the growing emphasis on the use of "high stakes" tests in holding schools accountable for the academic performance of their students and the growing number of "school choice" options available to parents.
Specifically, this report addresses the following questions:
To address these questions, this report focuses on the subset of youth represented in NLTS and NLTS2 who had been out of high school up to 4 years. NLTS was a 6-year-long study of youth with disabilities who were in grade 7 or above and ages 13 through 21 in the 1983–84 school year. NLTS2 is a 10-year-long study of the characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of a nationally representative sample of youth with disabilities who were 13 to 16 years old and receiving special education services in grade 7 or above on December 1, 2000. Findings from both studies are intended to generalize to youth with disabilities nationally and to youth in each of the federal special education disability categories in use for students in the NLTS or NLTS2 age range at the time of each study. NLTS2 was designed to collect data on sample members from multiple sources in five waves, beginning in 2001 and ending in 2009. NLTS also collected data from several sources, however, in two rather than five waves, beginning in 1985 and ending in 1990.
Multiple data sources were used in this report to describe the differences in post-high school experiences of youth with disabilities. The primary NLTS source was the Wave 2 parent/youth telephone interview and mail survey, conducted in 1990. For NLTS2, the primary source was the Wave 3 parent/youth telephone interview and mail survey, conducted in 2005. In addition, constructed variables that describe youth's experiences since leaving high school incorporated data from the NLTS Wave 1 parent interview (conducted in 1987) and the NLTS2 Wave 2 parent/youth telephone interview and mail survey (conducted in 2003) for youth who were out of high school in 1987 or 2003. School district rosters in both studies and the NLTS2 Wave 1 parent interview or mail survey also provided a small amount of data used in this report.
For both studies, information on the outcomes of out-of-high-school youth come from youth themselves in the majority of cases, usually from the youth telephone interview. These respondents were youth who were reported by parents to be able to answer questions for themselves by telephone. Youth who were reported to be able to answer questions for themselves, but not by telephone (e.g., youth with hearing impairments) were sent a mail questionnaire with a subset of items from the telephone survey. For youth who were reported by parents not to be able to answer questions for themselves (e.g., youth with significant cognitive impairments), interviews were attempted with parents. In NLTS, parents who could not be reached by phone were mailed a questionnaire with a subset of items from the telephone interview; no parent mail survey was conducted in Wave 3 of NLTS2. Thus there are four sources of NLTS data for Wave 2 of NLTS and three sources for Wave 3 of NLTS2.
When similar data items were available, comparisons were made between youth with disabilities and the same-age youth in the general population. Comparison data were taken from the Current Population Survey (CPS), 1990 and 2005. The CPS is a monthly survey of 50,000 households conducted by the Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The nationally representative sample included in this monthly survey was selected to represent the civilian noninstitutional population in the United States. Comparison data for this report were taken from the October 1990, and October 2005, data collections for youth who were 18 to 21 years old and out of high school. Calculations were made from public use data available at http://www.census.gov/cps/, using the Data Ferret Web tool.
Information reported here primarily is drawn from the second wave of parent/youth interviews conducted for NLTS in 1990 (referred to as cohort 1) and the third wave of parent/youth interviews conducted for NLTS2 youth in 2005 (referred to as cohort 2). Analyses include the age group of out-of-high-school youth that was common to the studies at those time points: youth ages 18 through 21. Youth included in this report varied in the length of time they were out of high school, ranging from less than 1 month to 4 years post-high school. This report documents differences in post-high school outcomes for out-of-high-school youth with disabilities as a whole and for youth in the nine disability categories that were in use in both 1987 and 2001, when NLTS and NLTS2 samples were selected.2 Differences also are described for youth with disabilities who varied in their school-completion status, their length of time since leaving high school, gender, their parents' household income,3 and their racial/ethnic category.
Comparisons of data from NLTS and NLTS2 document the extent and direction of differences between 1990 and 20054 in the post-high school outcomes and experiences of youth with disabilities in their first 4 years out of high school, in several key domains, including the following:
This executive summary presents all findings related to these key domains that are included in the full report for out-of-high school youth with disabilities as a group as well as all differences between youth who differ in their disability, high-school leaving, and demographic characteristics that are significantly different at at least the p < .01 level.5