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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


Scientific Exploration Suggests Ways to Help Dropouts

A study that conducted interviews with students who had dropped out of school has provided new insights into their lives and suggests actions that would be helpful to them. In addition, the study identified some intriguing new questions. For example, it appears that dropouts who believe that they can succeed in academics are more likely to succeed in obtaining their GEDs, and those who had completed their GEDs in this study more often expressed confidence in their reading ability. This and other findings raise the question, "Are those who have greater confidence in their reading ability more likely to pursue adult education after dropping out?"

Another interesting discovery is that students in this study with EBD were more likely to achieve in post-school settings, leading researchers to ask, "Is it possible that the combination of self-direction and the adult education atmosphere provides a context where individuals with EBD can achieve better academic success?"

The study was performed through Boston College and the University of Kansas. Interviews were conducted with 277 young people aged 16-21 in an urban, midwestern community. These young people were from four groups:

  • School dropouts with LD or EBD who had obtained a GED before they turned 21
  • Dropouts with LD or EBD who were pursuing a GED
  • Dropouts without identified disabilities who were pursuing a GED
  • Currently enrolled high school students with LD or EBD.

The interviews addressed topics related to educational history, school leaving, and post-leaving educational and economic experiences. Of particular interest were those factors that differentiate young people who completed GEDs before age 21 from those who did not.

The study produced a number of insights into the lives of students with disabilities who dropped out of school:

  • National data suggest that females are more likely to pursue adult education, and the findings from this study concur. This finding held true for study participants who had disabilities as well as those who did not.
  • National data also suggest that youth are more likely to complete a GED if they finished 11th grade before dropping out. In this study, 15% of those currently pursuing GEDs had finished 11th grade; of those who completed GEDs, almost twice as many (28%) had finished 11th grade.
  • The GED completers more often reported that their primary problem with school was difficulty attending school rather than academic problems.
  • GED completers all reported their own reading abilities as "average" to "very good." In each of the other groups, 80% reported their reading abilities to be in these categories. Researchers thought it likely that self-reports of all groups exaggerated actual reading ability.

Suggestions for educators included evaluating policies and procedures for dropping out to learn if they have different effects on students of different race or culture, gender, age, or disability status. Educators should also ensure that each student who drops out is aware of and possibly connected to other community resources, including alternative education programs, vocational rehabilitation, centers for independent living, literacy programs, and community colleges. While they may not be interested in pursuing these options immediately, they can benefit from knowing about them in the future.

The research in the study was supported by the Office of Special Education Programs at the US Department of Education, Grant #H023P30008. For more information, see "Academic and Participation Profiles of School-Age Drop Outs With and Without Disabilities," by David Scanlon and Darryl F. Mellard. Exceptional Children, 68(2).

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Last updated: March 4, 2003

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