Ch 4_Challenge 4_Statistic

Nationwide, 18.1% of students with SLD and 17.6% of students with OHI dropped out in 2013–2014, compared to 6.5% of all students.16 Only one other category of students—those with emotional disturbance—experience a higher dropout rate.

In January 2017, dropout data were released for most states for students with disabilities in 2014–2015. (SLD data for eight states and OHI data for ten states were withheld due to questions about the data.) The dropout rate that year was 25% or higher in 12 states for students with SLD and in 13 states for students with OHI. The highest dropout rates were in South Carolina for students with SLD (33%) and in Utah for students with OHI (40%).

Although the dropout rates for students with SLD and OHI have decreased over the last decade, these rates remain unacceptably high.

Over the last decade, nearly half a million students with SLD have left school without a diploma, placing them at high risk for poor outcomes such as unemployment, underemployment, and involvement with the criminal justice system.


There are many factors that can influence a student’s decision to drop out. These include:

  • Lack of appropriate instruction or being taught in a way that doesn’t enable a student to learn
  • School climate such as bullying or inadequate resources for instruction and support
  • Low expectations for student success
  • Student behavior such as chronic absenteeism
  • Family issues such as lack of parent involvement and limited access to medical and mental health services
  • Community stressors such as high crime and lack of support for school activities

In the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2), more than half of students with disabilities reported failing one or more courses before leaving high school.17 The failure rates were highest for students with SLD (61%), OHI (64%) and emotional disturbance (69%).18 But when asked why they dropped out, the most common reason students with SLD gave was that they did not like school.


To reduce the dropout rate for students with learning and attention issues, schools need to focus on improving school climate as well as addressing instructional needs.

More research is also needed on credit recovery programs—including online credit recovery programs—that aim to reduce dropouts. Accelerated credit recovery may appeal to students who are bored by or dislike school or who feel they’re so far behind they can’t catch up. But little is known about how effective these programs are for students with learning and attention issues.

Programs: