In this podcast from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, Candace Cortiella interviews two experts about high school diploma options and their implications for students with learning disabilities (LD). Her guests are Laura Kaloi, public policy advisor for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and Dr. Martha Thurlow, director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes.
Candace Cortiella: Laura, we know that the number of students with learning disabilities (LD) who are leaving high schools with a regular diploma is far too low. Exactly what is their graduation rate, and how does it compare to the national rate?
Laura Kaloi: According to the data released by the U.S. Department of Education this June, the nation’s graduation rate in 2007 and 2008 was 75 percent. That rate varies dramatically across states and ethnic groups. The rate is just 51 percent in Nevada and as high as 90 percent in Wisconsin. The graduation rate is highest for Asian/Pacific Island students at 91 percent and lowest for black students at 61 percent. White students graduate at the rate of 81 percent, and Hispanics at a rate of 63 percent—just slightly better than black students.
For students with LD the graduation rate is just 61 percent, which is an improvement over the past decade but is still far too low. Most students who don’t graduate with the regular diploma are dropouts and, in fact, in 2007, there was one dropout for every three students with learning disabilities who graduated.
It’s important to know that the graduation rate for students with disabilities is calculated differently than the reported rate for all students. The calculation used for students with disabilities results in a higher rate of graduation, so there is even more of discrepancy than is shown by the numbers we just discussed.
Candace Cortiella: Martha, your center recently released a new report on high school diploma options. What exactly is meant by “diploma options”?
Dr. Martha Thurlow: The term “diploma options” refers to the various documents a student can receive as he or she exits high school. The most common option is the regular high school diploma, but there are several advanced or honors diplomas as well. The regular high school diploma, along with those [advanced and honors diplomas] is the one that counts when graduation rates are calculated. However, there are a variety of other diploma options to be aware of. They include options that are available to all students, such as a certificate of attendance or a certificate of achievement or completion. They also include some that are available only to student with disabilities, such as an IEP Diploma or a Special Education Diploma. Some states have only one option to the regular diploma available to students at the end of high school. Other states have multiple options, up to five in at least one state.
Candace Cortiella: So, it appears that there is lots of variability across the states. How do parents learn about the diploma options in their state?
Dr. Martha Thurlow: There are really significant differences across states. Parents should check their state’s department of education website to learn about the options in their state and to understand the implications of each option.
Candace Cortiella: Martha, what is contributing to the increase in these exiting documents or diploma options other than a regular high school diploma?