The shift toward standardized testing has failed to result in a meaningful reduction of high school dropout rates, and students with disabilities continue to be marginalized by the culture of testing in public education (Dynarski et al., 2008). With that said, the needs of students with specific educational challenges are diverse and complex, and the solutions to their needs are not revealed in the results of standardized testing (Crawford & Tindall, 2006). Special education issues that demand more immediate attention include (a) ensuring that special education teachers have appropriate textbooks, (b) providing special education teachers with help to complete needed paperwork relative to student assessments and intervention; and (c) investigating why "a disproportionate number of children of color end up in special education" (Shorr, 2006, p. 1).
Without giving the proper attention to special education, the ongoing challenge of dropping out among students with disabilities cannot be addressed. It is clear that it is an issue that has been flying under the radar and at the same time being ignored. Bringing the attention back to the issue appears to be the only way this concern can be addressed.
Ascertaining the characteristics that dropouts display and identifying the common reasons why students with disabilities drop out is vital to developing and applying appropriate effective dropout prevention strategies and programs. According to the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), students with disabilities are diverse and have different needs and goals (Gargiulo, 2011). The Council for Exceptional Children (2010) explained that students with disabilities
Differ from one another in ability, age, learning style, and personality;
Come from all cultural backgrounds and may speak languages other than English;
Have unique learning needs based on their disabilities that require a number of special education and related services, such as specially designed instruction, adapted materials, speech-language therapy, or adaptive physical education;
May have cognitive impairments, such as intellectual disability, that can range from mild to profound;
May have learning disabilities that require specific teaching strategies, including accommodations to and modifications of the general education curriculum;
May have physical disabilities that require the use of wheelchairs or other assistive devices;
May have impairments that are sensory, such as hearing loss and vision impairments;
Might have emotional conditions; and May have their learning complicated by chronic health problems and multiple disabilities. (Gargiulo, 2011)
Contrary to common myths, students with disabilities can succeed in school, and, when provided with an adequate education, they grow mentally and socially (Gargiulo, 2011).
Much variation exists within the population of students with disabilities; however, particular disability classifications are more strongly linked to negative educational outcomes, as well as to a lack of confidence, self-consciousness, and difficulties in understanding language and instructions (Heckman & LaFontaine, 2010). In addition, students with disabilities are "…more likely [to] become involved in major disciplinary incidents like suspensions and expulsions than are their peers in general education programs. & #8230; [They regularly] attain significantly lower levels of academic performance than the average student" (Swanson, 2008, p. 1). These factors certainly contribute to dropping out and to the lifelong consequences that follow.
Situation to Self
I have always taken a particular interest in students with disabilities; my goal has been to help these students perform to their fullest potential and to ensure that they complete high school in order to reverse the dropout rate among special education students. This research study is therefore very important to me in my quest to assist my students. I believe that, if I can understand the experiences that culminate in the decision to drop out of high school, I can reduce those experiences as a teacher and, further, encourage administrative changes that could encourage special education students to stay in school.
The disabilities experienced by special education students place them at a disadvantage in pursuing financial stability and professional success (Ford, 2007). Special education students that graduate with disabilities will eventually require special accommodations in the workplace, and some may have cognitive disabilities that limit their career opportunities (Levinson & Palmer, 2005). Not completing high school inherently increases the challenges that these individuals face as they strive to become productive members of society and attain personal independence. To reduce dropout rates among students with disabilities, strategies beyond increased government spending on special education programs should be investigated. Understanding the experiences of students with disabilities is a starting point for developing such strategies.
It is important that predictive factors or indicators are recognized early in order to delay or even stop special education students from dropping out. Balfanz, Herzon, and MacIver (2006) asserted that four indicators predict a student's risk of dropping out of high school: (a) missing school more than 20% of the time, (b) earning a poor final behavior grade, (c) failing English, and (d) failing math. Directing additional interventions toward students with disabilities is often thought to drain resources that could potentially yield results elsewhere; Balfanz et al. (2007) contended that students with disabilities routinely receive extra interventions while other students who might benefit from additional interventions are not successfully identified. Until predictive factors can be better identified, the concerns that targeting interventions at specific populations may or may not be effective will remain.
I argue that interventions helping to ensure that students with disabilities graduate from high school should not be perceived as a financial drain but, rather, as an investment. Interventions for one group of students may simultaneously serve to benefit other groups. Identifying common reasons why high school students with disabilities drop out can inform the successful application of various dropout prevention strategies and techniques that might eventually be generalized to other populations. While students may drop out for diverse reasons, common factors may exist that could point to opportunities for change within the school so as to better support at-risk students. Thus far, the literature has focused too narrowly on identifying students at risk from becoming part of the drop out statistics among special education students. The literature rarely, if ever, focuses on the early indicators and warning signs behind the high drop out rate of special education students. This research study attempts to fill that gap by gaining personal insight from the perspective of students with disabilities who decided to drop out of school.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this qualitative case study is to explore the lived experiences of individuals with disabilities who dropped out of the selected public high school in Virginia between 2009 and 2012 as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of the special education program with special education students who are at high risk for dropping out of high school. Research studies typically focus on the common attributes and demographics of students with disabilities who dropped out of school, rather than on the experiences of these students that led to and influenced their decision to drop out. in-depth interviews will be the primary data gathering method from at least 15 participants who will be asked to share their experiences as they came to the decision to drop out of high school. The results of this study may contribute insight into the causes of attrition rates and thus suggest strategies that can address the problem. The school under study was chosen because of its broad population of students with disabilities and its high dropout rates. The investigation will use the participants' personal experiences in order to interpret the phenomenon. The researcher assumes the participants will be honest and open while answering the interview questions. The researcher will utilize a methodology that can ascertain the reasons why students with disabilities drop out of high school. The researcher will be able to recommend approaches that could reduce the dropout rate among students with disabilities.
This qualitative research study is guided by three research questions:
1. What are the common experiences of students with disabilities who drop out of school? This question is based on a gap in existing literature that has resulted from researchers' tendencies to focus more on the statistics and then consequence rather than a more personal account of the students themselves and their point-of-view. In the present study, I will seek insight into students' experiences that influenced their decisions to drop out of school near graduation. I hope to assess the effectiveness of the special education program with students who are at high risk for dropping out of high school through getting the students perception.
2. What are student's perceptions of how the special education program were running at their school? Whether or not they believe that it was effective or not?
3. What were the common factors contributing to the decisions of the study participants to drop out of school? I anticipate that examining the experiences of students with disabilities who dropped out of school will yield common factors that contributed to their decisions.
Delimitations and Limitations
Delimitations refer to those aspects of a research study…