Researchers believe that 85% to 90% of students with IEPs can meet the same graduation standards as all other students—if they receive specially designed instruction and appropriate supports and accommodations.8 Yet in 2014–2015, only about two-thirds (64.6%) of students with disabilities graduated with a regular diploma, compared to 83.2% for all students.9
In 2013–2014, 7 out of 10 students with SLD and OHI left school with a regular diploma, about 1 in 9 received a certificate of completion and more than 1 in 6 dropped out.10 (Certificates of completion and dropout rates are discussed later in this report.)
In January 2017, USED released exiting data by disability type for the 2014–2015 school year, but withheld information about some states due to questions about the data.) As the chart below makes clear, there is wide variation among states, with 90% or more students with SLD receiving regular diplomas in Alabama, Indiana, Minnesota and New Jersey compared to less than 50% in Mississippi and Nevada.
It’s also important to note that the requirements to earn a regular diploma vary significantly across states—and the differing practices make it hard to know just how prepared students with disabilities really are when they graduate from high school.11
Thirty states allow schools to adjust the graduation requirements so that students with disabilities can receive a regular diploma. For example, some states may:
- Allow IEP teams to decide on a student’s diploma requirements
- Allow students to fulfill graduation course requirements with less rigorous course substitutes
- Accept lower passing grades on end-of-course tests for students with disabilities (as compared to students who do not have identified disabilities)