- The Ohio Department of Education is putting renewed focus on supports to keep students with disabilities on track to earn a general high school diploma. The goal is to increase the rate to 70% by 2025, up from the 2020 graduation rate of 59% for students with disabilities in the state.
- Approaches for raising graduation rates in the state's Comprehensive State Systemic Improvement Plan — also known as Each Child On Track — include engaging students and families in postsecondary transition planning, implementing early warning systems for identifying students at risk of not earning a diploma, and working with various partners to support students, staff and families.
- Students who are provided with rigorous curriculum and opportunities to reach their full potential have better postsecondary outcomes, according to Ohio officials and national experts.
Ohio has one diploma system for high school graduation. However, the individual education program team representing a student with disabilities can choose options that could involve a less rigorous path to earning a diploma. Those diplomas are not recognized at the federal level, according to Amy Szymanski, secondary transition and workforce development consultant at the Ohio Department of Education.
Szymanski, in an essay about the new graduation goals, said Ohio's 58% graduation rate for students with disabilities was the 5th lowest in the country. The state's dropout rate of 16% for students with disabilities falls in the bottom third of all states.
"It testifies to the discouragement that far too many young people with disabilities experience when they are not encouraged and supported to maximize their potential and achieve at the highest level they can," Szymanski said.
Federal data shows that in the 2019-20 school year, the public high school four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate for students with disabilities was 71%. For all students, it was 87%.
According to Szymanski and state documents, Ohio plans to focus on the following to boost graduation rates for students with disabilities:
- Use early warnings. School staff will identify students with disabilities who are at risk for not graduating by flagging attendance below 90%, as well as any course failures, suspensions and expulsions.
- Partner with families. Training will be provided to help school staff involve and empower families in the transition planning to prepare students to earn a regular diploma.
- Support educators. State officials will help schools and districts ensure school staff are knowledgeable in the state's graduation policy for at-risk students, as well as in career advising, evidence-based approaches for teaching skills, and positive behavioral interventions and support.
- Ensure equitable access. Included in district-level target-setting efforts to provide services to students with disabilities are goals for equitable access to general education programs and transition services. Districts will strengthen practices by reviewing data for assessment participation, inclusion in general education classrooms, discipline discrepancies, and significant disproportionality in special education placements, discipline and identification, among other measurements.
To support districts in these efforts, Ohio Department of Education will collaborate with regional state support teams, educational service centers, institutions of higher education, the Ohio Statewide Family Engagement Center, adult agency providers, and workforce partners, Szymanski said.