Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Promoting School Completion of Urban Secondary Youth with Emotional or Behavioral Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Promoting School Completion of Urban Secondary Youth with Emotional or Behavioral Disabilities

Article excerpt

The risk of school failure and high incidence of negative post-school outcomes are critical concerns for the education of youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities (also referred to as serious emotional disturbance or emotional or behavioral disorders). A disproportionate number of these youth drop out of school and experience higher postschool rates of incarceration, unemployment, and underemployment. Results from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS) indicated that 55% of youth with emotional disturbance drop out of school, compared to 36% of all students with disabilities over the same time period and 24% of a comparable cohort of general education students across the country (Wagner, 1995, Table 2). In 1999 to 2000, 40% (n = 14,842) of youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities age 14 and older graduated with a standard diploma and 51% (n = 19,032) dropped out (U.S. Department of Education, 2002, Table IV-I). Among African American students with emotional or behavioral disabilities, analysis of the NLTS data indicated that only 28% graduate from high school with a diploma, compared to 42% of all youth identified with this disability, 56% of all youth with disabilities, and 79% of a similar cohort of general education peers (Osher & Osher, 1996).

Blackorby and Wagner (1996) found that 35% of youth with emotional disturbances were arrested 3 to 5 years after they graduated, and up to 73% of those who dropped out were arrested. One third of youth with emotional disturbance were not employed either 2 to 5 years out of school, and 19% of those who were employed lost their job at least once; this is the highest percentage among all students with disabilities (Wagner, 1995). Attendance difficulties were a common reason for dropping out noted by youth with learning or emotional or behavioral disabilities (Scanlon & Mellard, 2002). Mobility is also a significant component of the school experience among school dropouts and for youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities in particular. Fifty-two percent of all the students with emotional or behavioral disabilities who exited special education did so because they moved, compared to 37% of students across all disability categories (U.S. Department of Education, 2002, Table AD1). Students from the National Education Longitudinal Study who experienced one or more nonpromotional school changes between 8th and 12th grades were twice as likely to drop out of school (Rumberger & Larson, 1998). Osher, Morrison, and Bailey (2003) identified a cumulative exposure to mobility over time and settings among youth with emotional or behavioral disabilities that was highly associated with dropping out.

Moreover, the availability of experimental, evidence-based intervention studies that directly investigate dropout prevention or school completion is limited (Lehr, Hansen, Sinclair, & Christenson, 2003). Dropout prevention intervention studies that report outcomes separately for students with disabilities or include students receiving special education services are even fewer (Lehr et al., 2003). The vast majority of information on school dropout is derived from nonexperimental studies that identify predictive factors, characterize prevention programs, or provide a description of the youth, the families, the communities in which they live, and the schools they attend (Christenson, Sinclair, Lehr, & Hurley, 2000). Although this research is valuable, practitioners and policymakers in search of empirically supported intervention strategies will need to rely on studies that examine secondary indicators of dropout prevention, such as reduction in problem behavior through positive behavioral supports or increasing student's affiliation with school through service learning programs. More experimental research and evaluation studies are needed on the effectiveness of prevention and intervention strategies directly in relation to the impact on dropout and school completion rates. …

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