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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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This topic explores the issues related to the high dropout rate among students with disabilities and provides ideas for improving their graduation rates.


Lowering dropout rates and increasing graduation rates among all students is a national priority. The high school graduation rates for students with disabilities and other at-risk student populations continue to be below the national average. Graduation is least likely among students with intellectual disabilities, emotional/behavioral disabilities, and learning disabilities. Other populations with disproportionately high dropout rates include low socioeconomic status students, students from single-parent families, and students identified as Native American or Hispanic/Latino (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).

The No Child Left Behind Act, through its requirements for schools to show adequate yearly progress (AYP), holds schools accountable for graduation rates and requires states to report graduation rates disaggregated by disability status. Personnel from local and state education agencies are charged with developing educational programs that engage students in school and learning, ensure acquisition of the academic and social skills necessary for adulthood, and result in high rates of school completion (Thurlow & Johnson, 2011).


National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). The condition of education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Thurlow, M., & Johnson, D. (2011). The high school dropout dilemma and special education students. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California, Santa Barbara; California Dropout Research Project. Retrieved from

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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.