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Report: Grad Rate For PA Students With Disabilities Trails Peers

After high school, students with disabilities need to be prepared for the same activities other students are prepared for, according to the Education Week Research Center.

The education policy non-profit issued its 10th annual Diplomas Count report looking at the challenges and opportunities students with disabilities face as they transition from high school.

“Not all students with disabilities face the same difficulties, the same challenges,” said senior research associate Sterling Lloyd.

Nationwide, public schools serve nearly six million students with disabilities from ages 6 through 21, including 124,000 in Pennsylvania. Those learning barriers combine learning disabilities, health impairments like deafness or blindness, emotional needs, intellectual disabilities and autistism, among others.

Lloyd said boosting high school graduation rates for any group of students will pay off financially both for individuals and communities. 

“Historically, students with disabilities have struggled to reach the graduation rates of their peers and sometimes haven’t received the services they need in schools," he said. "While that’s improved over time, it’s important to scrutinize the opportunities they have to make sure they have the same chance of a good career and good living as other students.”

According to the study, Pennsylvania does a better job graduating its students with disabilities from high school than the nation as a whole. In 2013, 75 percent of commonwealth students with disabilities received a diploma within four years compared to a national average of 62 percent. Pennsylvania’s graduation rate jumps to 86.9 percent for high school students who receive a diploma by 21—the maximum age by law. The four-year graduation rate for all students in Pennsylvania is 86 percent.

Lloyd said one of the primary focus areas of the report is how students with disabilities are faring after exiting their senior year.

“Nationally most students with disabilities do go on to post-secondary education or employment," he said. "Only 6.2 percent had not been engaged in any educational or job-related activity, so that’s encouraging.”

But students with disabilities who do go on to post-secondary education tend to enroll in community colleges, he said, while “their peers with disabilities are more likely to enter four-year colleges.”

Lloyd said today’s students — with or without disabilities — are increasingly expected to prepare for additional education or training for a productive role in the workplace.

“Just as students without disabilities sometimes struggle to be prepared for the workforce, we see surveys of employers saying that students in general who are exiting high school often are not prepared to complete the tasks that are required in a competitive global economy," Lloyd said. "That’s important for students with disabilities as well.”

He said center officials hope policymakers will use the data to tailor education services needed by students with disabilities.