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National Center for Special Education Research


Facts From NLTS2: High School Completion by Youth With Disabilities

NLTS 2200511
November 2005

High School Completion by Youth With Disabilities

Whether youth complete high school or leave without finishing can be associated with both economic and social disadvantages, with dropouts experiencing a higher likelihood of unemployment and arrest and lower life-time earnings than graduates (U.S. Department of Commerce 2004; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention 1995). Data regularly collected by the U.S. Department of Education on high school completion and dropout rates for the general population show that school completion is less common among some demographic groups than others, including those from lower-income households and students who are Hispanic, for example (U.S. Department of Education 2005). Similar national data for students with disabilities are not routinely collected,1 so trends in school-leaving status and differential school completion rates for different demographic groups among youth with disabilities are unknown.

Data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2)2 are designed to provide a national picture3 of the rate at which secondary school students with disabilities complete high school and how they fare in their early postschool years. Further, comparisons of findings from NLTS2 and the original NLTS4 enables an investigation of changes in school completion rates from 1987 through 2003.

This fact sheet was prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences under Contract No. ED-01-CO-0003. The project officer is Patricia Gonzalez in the National Center for Special Education Research.

1 The Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education regularly reports data on the ways in which students with disabilities exit special education (U.S. Department of Education 2003), which can include dropping out, graduating, and reaching the maximum age for special education services, but those figures are confounded with other modes of leaving special education, such as returning to general education classes.
2 The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) has a nationally representative sample of more than 11,000 students who were in at least seventh grade and receiving special education services in the 2000–01 school year. This sample represents a total of 1,838,848 youth with disabilities, according to federal child count figures (U.S. Department of Education 2002). Twenty-eight percent of the youth represented in NLTS2, or about half a million youth, had left school by spring 2003, when parents and youth were interviewed.
3 Data reported here are population estimates from data weighted to represent students in each disability category who attended school in the kinds of districts from which they were sampled.
4 The National Longitudinal Transition Study was conducted by SRI International (SRI) for OSEP from 1985 through 1993. SRI is conducting NLTS2 currently. For comparisons with NLTS2, statistical adjustments were made to the studies' samples to include only same-age youth. In both samples used in these analyses, 19% of youth are 15 through 17, 31% are 18, and 50% are 19. In addition, the composition of some disability categories was adjusted so that categories were defined similarly at the two time points (e.g., the separate categories of deaf and hearing impaired that were in use in 1987 were combined in these analyses to be comparable to the single category of hearing impairment in use in 2001). See Wagner, Newman, Cameto, and Levine (2005), for additional details on adjustments to the studies' samples and findings regarding changes over time in outcomes of youth with disabilities.