Academic and Participation Profiles of School-Age Dropouts with and without Disabilities
Scanlon, David, Mellard, Daryl F., Exceptional Children
Recognition of learning disabilities (LD) and emotional or behavioral disorders (EBD) as life-long conditions (Carson, Sitlington, & Frank, 1995; Polloway, Smith, & Patton, 1984; Unger, 1997) has led to interest in the experiences of students in secondary school and beyond. Profiles of successful adults with LD or EBD have shown that either disability can have negligible effects after leaving school. At least in the case of learning disabilities, the resolve and skill of individuals can help to compensate for potentially negative consequences of the condition (Reiff, Ginsberg, & Gerber, 1995). The severity of a disability is also likely to influence experiences (Reiff et al.; Sitlington & Frank, 1990), as are the ways in which it is manifested (Gerber, 1998). In some instances, the severity or manifestation of the disability becomes reduced as adolescents mature into adults (Reis, Neu, & McGuire, 1997). But still, overall evidence of the life experiences of adults with LD or EBD reflects limited quality in relationships and socialization, economic independence, and academic achievement (admittedly, such data are skewed in representation because, typically, only those who present difficulties become identified as having the disabilities).
Young adults (approximately aged 16-21) with LD or EBD are generally dissatisfied with their own preparedness for independence. Many report lacking confidence in their academic and work skills, self-esteem, and control of their lives (Rumberger, 1987). This perspective is common among school dropouts. While individuals sometimes experience a sense of relief once they drop out, they typically report apprehension about their preparation for economic, academic, and social independence beyond school. Such apprehension is not unwarranted, given that school dropouts generally have lower academic skills than high school graduates (Alexander, Natriello, & Pallas, 1985). Even among employment options suitable for individuals without a high school credential or no higher, those who drop out and have a mild disability have been disadvantaged in competitive employment markets (Baxter, 1992; Okolo & Sitlington, 1988; Schwartz, 1995; Sitlington & Frank, 1990; White, Schumaker, Warner, Alley, & Deshler, 1980). Perceptions and evidence about the preparedness of dropouts with LD or EBD are consistent with typifying information about their in-school experiences.
Since Warner, Schumaker, Alley, and Deshler (1980) first reported on the limited academic skills of adolescents with LD, little appears to have changed (see also Schumaker, Deshler, Alley, & Warner, 1983). While more adolescents with LD are being included in the mainstream of schools (those with EBD are comparatively more likely to be placed outside of inclusion settings [Long, 1994; U.S. Department of Education, 1999]), recent findings from the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) and the National Longitudinal Transitions Study of Special Education Students (NLTS) indicate average skill levels and consequent school outcomes have not changed much (Vogel & Reder, 1998; Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, & Blackorby, 1992). Similar findings of consistently low performance across age levels have been reported for students with EBD (Hechtman & Weiss, 1985; Kauffman, 1997). Some have theorized that the difficulties of participating and succeeding in school for these students are significant factors in their dropping out (Reiff et al., 1995; Roderick, 1993; Sinclair, Christenson, Evelo, & Hurley, 1998).
In comparison to an overall national dropout rate of approximately 12% (Kaufman, Kwon, Klein, & Chapman, 1999), those students with LD have recently estimated dropout rates ranging from 17% to 42% and those with EBD have even higher dropout rates, estimated to be from 21% to 64% (Lichtenstein & Zantol-Wiener, 1988; National Center for Education Statistics, 1993, 1997, 1999). As Rumberger (1987) has noted, a number of factors strongly correlate with dropping out. Some of these factors are relatively inalterable, such as socioeconomic and racial minority status (Brown, Foster-Johnson, Greenbaum, & Caso-Esposito, 1995; Kortering & Braziel, 1999; Lorsbach & Frymier, 1992). Other factors are more amenable to interventions, for example, absenteeism, course failure, and peer influences.
Dropout factors can be categorized as those that push students out of school and those that pull students out (Jordan, Lara, & McPartland, 1996). Factors that push students out are commonly cited as the primary catalysts for dropping out, for example, repeating grades, low academic achievement, and insufficient evidence that school personnel care (Jordan et al.; Kortering & Braziel, 1999; Schwartz, 1995). Pull-out factors include employment prior to school completion and pregnancy. Certain demographic factors also describe who is likely to drop out. Regardless of disability status, males, particularly from urban communities and low-income homes, and who are racial minorities, predominate in dropout populations (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2000). A combination of demographic factors and experiences may further predict who drops out. Finn (1993) suggested that a number of factors that indicate likelihood to drop out could signal a need for intensified support. The monitoring that students at risk for leaving school typically receive, unfortunately, only includes notification of failure to succeed, for example, an impending course failure (Sinclair et al., 1998). More appropriate services would include sustained and supportive monitoring interventions focused on school completion, and not just dropout prevention (Sinclair et al., 1998).
Once dropping out has occurred, however, the time immediately following may be critical to the direction and quality of life the dropout will experience. Given the developmental stage of students who drop out (mid to late adolescence) and circumstances that typically lead up to leaving school, the time just after school leaving commonly involves a process of "floundering" (Halpern, 1993, p. 486; see also Rumberger, 1995). During that time the dropout may be resting or healing and, we would hope, beginning to plan for transition to a post-school life. As part of the process of post-school transition, the newly dropped out student must make sense of previous and current home and school experiences, the services and options now available, and her or his own motivation (Halpern, 1993). Returning to education is not a commonly selected option for school dropouts or high school completers with LD or EBD (Colley & Jamison, 1998; Kim, Collins, Stowe, & Chandler, 1995; Sitlington & Frank, 1990; Wagner, 1991). Particularly for school dropouts, returning to an educational setting can be undesirable and threatening.
The GED Option. Some students who drop out choose to pursue an alternative to a high school diploma. These include those who declare an intention to continue education before even dropping out. Others find through floundering that their quality of life is lower than they had anticipated, and they seek education to improve their situation. A presumed common alternative is to earn a General Educational Development (GED) diploma. This option is frequently cited during preparations to leave school (see Chaplin, 1999). To "drop out and get a GED" is not as simple as it sounds, however. While the majority of dropouts do so before completing 11th grade (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2000), the average age for earning a GED diploma is approximately 25, and two-thirds of GED recipients are over age 20 (American Council on Education [ACE], 2000). Recipients of a GED or similar alternative credential represent less than 2% of dropouts in the United States (ACE, 1995, 2000; NCES, 2000). The GED may be even more difficult to earn for individuals with academic or self-motivation difficulties. The passing score is set so that one-third of high school graduates would fail it (ACE, 2000). Of all persons who took the GED exam between 1972 and 1998 (some of whom were not school dropouts), approximately 60% passed (ACE, 1998). Statistics on the percentage of GED exam takers with disabilities are not published in the annual Who Took the GED? report. However, national survey data have indicated that those with disabilities are less likely to earn a GED than others (Marder & D'Amico, 1992). Thus, the GED may not be the obtainable alternative many dropouts and those guiding them presume it to be.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
Rumberger (1987) has called for research investigating factors leading to dropping out. The studies that have since been conducted on this topic tend to report on isolated aspects of the dropping out phenomenon. Given the prevalence of dropping out among young adults with LD or EBD, we sought to investigate antecedent and post-dropout experiences of these students. In light of the common interest in the GED as an alternative to the high school diploma, we examined the experiences of groups who pursue this option. Interviews regarding school history and post-school experiences were conducted. To gain understanding as to how LD and EBD intersect with the general condition of dropping out, comparisons are made among high school enrolled students with LD or EBD and dropouts with and without LD or EBD grouped by those who have and have not attained a GED diploma. Factors that may be presumed to be both within and outside of the individual's control are investigated.
To understand disability-related experiences relative to seeking a high school or GED diploma, the following research questions were addressed:
* What demographic factors characterize young adults with and without LD or EBD who pursue a high school or GED diploma?
* What are the secondary education disability-related service experiences of these individuals?
* What are these individuals' perceptions of the influence of disability on their school experiences and daily living?
The study was conducted in an …
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Publication information: Article title: Academic and Participation Profiles of School-Age Dropouts with and without Disabilities. Contributors: Scanlon, David - Author, Mellard, Daryl F. - Author. Journal title: Exceptional Children. Volume: 68. Issue: 2 Publication date: Winter 2002. Page number: 239+. © 1999 Council for Exceptional Children. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.