Sunday, March 1, 2009

Students with disabilities disappear

When students took the 2008 CATS assessment, nearly 15% of third graders were identified as having disabilities, but fewer than 10% of twelfth graders were. I fear these numbers tell a tale of students with special needs despairing and dropping out at rates far higher than students overall. I don't know that for sure, but it's my strong, very sad hunch about why the numbers drop so fast.

Source note: In general, I rely on CATS reporting for counts of students, because enrollment reports can so easily count the same student twice. I used KDE data files showing disaggregated results by grade, using reading counts for grades 3-10, math for grade 11, and on-demand writing for grade 12.)


  1. In one way it is promising to see that the school identified that many students in the lower grades with a "disability." It would be more interesting to see how they arrived at those numbers. In my experience schools don't test for disabilities at that age. Or at least the schools in my part of the state (SE). Yes, by the time 12th grade comes about, the kids are gone. I am a parent of a student with a SLD, and he, with an IEP, and parental involvement is now in College, and doing well. The IEP could have been more effective.

  2. Susan,
    There is a great need to have some good discussion about this data. There are many variables to consider and there are many sources of data that are hard to link together. For example, on the KDE website there are drop out numbers for children with IEPs and child count spreadsheets by age and spreadsheets by disability making it very difficult to compare to the data you have presented. Students with IEPs are often held back too. Also the tendency with younger students is to classify them as "developmentally delayed" or "speach/language impaired" to give them extra small group resource teaching, but then they are exited from special ed leaving elementary school because they didn't quite meet the discrepency formula for Specific Learning Disability. There is also a tendency in high school to try to exit children from their IEP because high schools aren't very equiped to deal with providing special education services for students who are integrated in the regular, honors or advanced classes. Parents tend to withdraw from involvment, high school students tend to get more embarrassed about services if they haven't been taught how to self advocate, I could go on and on. Many just drop out from sheer frustration. I can't emphasis enough the need for parents to understand the IDEA law and the educational rights that are afforded to their children. Unfortunately, after dealing with these issues for 10 years now, I find the knowledgeable parent the exception, not the norm. I find that high school students do not have an understanding of their disability, how to advocate for themselves, and, if they are lucky enough to graduate, how to successfully transition to post secondary education or career.

    I just spoke with a high school senior this weekend who has ADHD and a 1.9 GPA. He told me that he could have done better but he was just lazy. He broke my heart becuase he is a very talented young man, far from lazy, who has not been taught to understand his disability and to advocate for himself. He has loving parents. He should have had a much better outcome than that based on his intelligence, ambition, and drive that I witness in other areas of his life. For those that want to say "Not every one is meant to go to college", I say that is a cop out. Who are we to make that decision anyway by witholding knowledge to advocate, supports and services from a student and their parents?

    Ok, I'm stepping down from my soapbox now....but would love for KDE to establish a task force to look into how we can better monitor what is going on to get to the bottom of what needs to be fixed. There are many good things going on in the state, and many dedicated teachers and administrators, but we just aren't getting the job done across the state and across all disabilities.

  3. This is a fantastic idea! One thing in particular, is due to the language development failures, many deaf and hard of hearing children are often left behind and tend to graduate with much more poor English skills (written) than the average high school graduate. It is important to identify and classify the different types of disabilities at an early ageso that proper IEP's can be developed. I am aware of at least one young person whom I just recently found out, he and his parents have decided to forgo having an interpreter. This young man has fairly rapidly declining hearing, and by not developing his sign skills now, and utilizing interpreters in the classroom, I am concerned that when he graduates, his English skills will be sub-standard to those of his fellow graduates and leave him ill-equipped for college. And the biggest reason is because he doesn't like looking like he is "singled out" by having an interpreter. We need to do a better job of teaching parents and kids to advocate better for themselves, I agree.


  4. Susan,

    I’m glad to see Prichard alerting on this problem. It has been a concern at the Bluegrass Institute for years. For example see “Enable the Disabled” here: Or, just search in with key words like “learning disabled.”

    Other data besides the CATS figures show trends of much lower enrollment of students with learning disabilities (SD) in the higher age groups (the KDE tracks SD by age, not assigned grade, in the Excel spreadsheets I have obtained). Certainly, these kids face a dropout problem.

    There are many additional issues. The same KDE Excel spreadsheets with the by age SD breakouts also show a tremendous disparity in identification by sex. The December 2006 “snap shot” of the situation shows 59,705 males were identified as SD but only 28,642 females were.

    I don’t think you can extract that from publicly released CATS data.

    Why does this huge male-female disparity occur? Could it be our education system isn’t reaching boys very well, and these frustrated males act out in ways that result in significant over-identification as SD when the real problem is with the educational program?


Updates and data on Kentucky education!