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US graduation gain for students with learning disabilities, but challenges remain

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High school graduation rates for learning disabled students improved in the last decade, but a new study says they still graduate at lower rates than their peers.

U.S. high school students with learning disabilities graduate at much lower rates than other students, and California’s graduation rate for these students is less than the national average, according to a recent report. There is also progress: the graduation rate for students with disabilities has improved in the last decade, reflecting stronger efforts by states.

The findings  by the National Center for Learning Disabilities in New York confirm what parents of students with learning disabilities have long known: their children have more difficulty graduating with their peers, if they graduate at all.

The report, “Diplomas at Risk: A Critical Look at Graduate Rates of Students with Learning Disabilities,” also documents an uneven track record by states in graduating these students.

California, for example, reported a graduation rate of 59 percent for students with learning disabilities for the 2010-2011 school year, compared with the national average of 68 percent, and a graduation rate of 76 percent for all California students.  The percentages are based on a four-year cohort ending in the 2010-2011 school year, the latest academic year for which complete data are available.

The study offered several recommendations to federal and state governments for improvement. One suggestion:  graduating students with high school diplomas instead of the certificates often awarded to students with learning disabilities. These certificates are not typically accepted for college admission.  

The study also lists five common types of learning disabilities that lead to disabled students dropping out, noting that they can surface as early as the elementary grades:

  • Dyslexia: difficulties with accurate and/or fluent work recognition, poor spelling and decoding abilities.
  • Dyscalculia: trouble solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.
  • Dysgraphia: difficulty forming letters or  writing within a defined space.
  • Auditory/Visual Processing Disorders: difficulty understanding and using verbal or written language despite normal hearing and vision.
  • Non-verbal Learning Disabilities: problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic  processing functions.

The study also added that, despite popular perception, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is not a learning disability, although the disorder occurs in about one third of people with learning disabilities.  

 

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