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A look at high school programs as perceived by youth with learning disabilities.

Abstract. This study illustrated how youth with learning disabilities (LD) perceive various aspects of their high school program. One hundred and eighty-five students with LD participated in an interview that explored their views of high school. Specifically, they responded to questions about the best and worst parts of school, recommended school, family, or personal changes that would improve their success in school, gave examples of how a teacher had helped them to learn, and offered general recommendations for improving school. The responses provide information on how they, as consumers of services, view their high school program. This information, in turn, offers insight into how educators might better tailor high school interventions to help more youth with LD to complete high school.


Youth with learning disabilities (LD) have a low rate of high school completion. For instance, according to the Office of Special Education Program's Twenty-Second Annual Report (2000), in the 1997/8 school year 100,100 and 13,700 youth with LD, over age 14, graduated with a diploma or certificate, respectively. Another 800 youth reached their maximum age of attendance. During this same period approximately 47,600 youth left school as identified dropouts. Another 33,500 youth left school but had not reenrolled in another school. It is likely that many of these youth who failed to reenroll became school dropouts. Combined, these numbers suggest that, at best, 113,800 youth successfully completed their high school program (diploma or certificate), while as few as 47,600 left as school dropouts. The corresponding "best possible" rate of school completion would be 70%, but this rate of school completion could be as low as 58% if one assumes that all the youth who had exited but not reenrolled actually were school dropouts. Even more troubling is the finding that this rate remains consistent with data from as far back as the 1984/5 school year (Office of Special Education, 1987).

For comparison, the high school graduation rate among general education youth continues to climb. Recent reports place the national high school completion at nearly 90% (Newburger & Curry, 1999). This rate takes into account youth who complete a standard high school or an adult high school program or who earn their General Education Development (GED) certificate. In fact, nearly half of all general education dropouts eventually complete an adult high school program or earn their GED (Center for Adult Learning and Educational Credentials, 1999). Significantly impacting on the national school completion rate, research suggests that, in contrast to their peers, youth with disabilities seldom enroll in adult programs or obtain a GED (Center for Adult Learning and Educational Credentials, 1999).

The low rate of school completion among youth with LD should be a critical issue to the field of special education. Special education professionals develop individualized educational programs (IEPs) that address the unique needs of each of their students (Smith, 1990). To be appropriate relative to legal standards, these programs are reasonably calculated to confer a meaningful educational benefit to individual recipients (Bakken & Kortering, 1999). Further, to be valid on a legal and professional level, these programs would seem to be effective at keeping youth in school, a necessary feature of any program that promises to provide meaningful benefit. Yet, many youth with LD drop out of their "special' educational opportunity, implying that their program failed to meet their unique needs in some way.

Society makes a substantial financial investment in special education. Indeed, on a per-student basis, it is more than double that for peers in general education (Center for the Future of Children, 1996; Chaikind, Danielson, & Braven, 1992; Chambers, Parrish, Lieberman, & Woman, 1998). The low completion rates offer critics support for their contention that special education as currently structured represents a poor investment (see e.g., Lankford & Wyckoff, 1995; Odden, Monk, Nakib, & Picus, 1995). Such a contention, absent evidence to the contrary, may undermine the public's willingness to provide extra financial support for special education programs. Finally, recent changes in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) directed attention to the need for high school programs to better prepare youth for the transition from school to work (see U.S.C. secs. 1400-1491(o)). Specific changes included expansion of Individual Transition Plans, requirement for additional family and student input into program planning, and mandated use of vocational assessments.


Previous research provides evidence of a need for improved programs on two fronts that relate to this study. First, the emerging research shows that youth with LD continue to drop out of school at a rate greatly exceeding that of general education peers. Second, dropping out of school results in a number of negative adulthood outcomes for former students.

School Dropout Rates Among Youth with LD

The research on school dropout in special education covers national, regional, state, and local district studies that have included a large majority of participants with LD. Lichenstein (1987) provided one of the initial investigations of school dropout among students with disabilities who had benefited from IDEA legislation. Using the national High School and Beyond study, he found that the dropout rate among youth who self-reported a disability (37%) was nearly double that of peers not reporting a disability (19%). Similarly, Wagner (1991), using the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS), found a dropout rate of 43% among youth with LD. This rate was higher than that reported for nondisabled peers with comparable demographic characteristics (32%) and all general education peers (24%). These findings are in line with later research using subsequent samples from the NLTS study (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996).

Smaller scale studies have examined school dropout among selected samples of youth with LD. For example, an early study involving 115 urban youth with LD and 118 peers found dropout rates of 53% and 27%, respectively (Zigmond & Thornton, 1985). These findings are comparable to later studies involving youth with LD from urban settings in the Northwest (Blackorby, Edgar, & Kortering, 1991), as well as earlier studies involving statewide samples of youth with LD in Colorado (Mithaug, Hourichi, & Fanning, 1985) and Vermont (Hasizi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985). Finally, Bartnick and Parkay (1991) analyzed the "holding power' of general and special education programs. This perspective involved determining how well various programs kept youth in school. The authors found that youth in programs for students with LD were twice as likely to drop out of school as general education peers with comparable characteristics.

Post-School Outcomes for Youth with LD

School dropout proves especially problematic if it becomes associated with negative adult outcomes. That is, by dropping out of school, youth with LD forfeit their best chance to develop the skills that will help them adjust to adulthood and secure suitable employment. Research chronicling the negative outcomes associated with dropping out dates back to Hollingshead's (1949) interviews of 740 out-of-school youth, including 390 who had dropped out of school. More recent research shows that today's negative outcomes include the fact that few school dropouts access employer-sponsored training (Hight, 1998), while many endure higher rates of unemployment or under-employment (Bound & Johnson, 1992). They also experience higher rates of unexpected parenthood (Coley, 1997) and drug use (Swaim & Beauvis, 1997). Furthermore, at least one study suggested that school dropouts account for half of all prisoners and heads of households on welfare (Coley, 1997).

The research on what happens to youth with LD who drop out of school is limited. Zigmond and Thornton (1985) reported that urban youth with LD were more likely to be employed if they were graduated from school (78% versus 46%). These employment rates were comparable to findings from Vermont involving youth with disabilities who had graduated (60%) or dropped out of school (30%), but lower than rates reported from the state of Minnesota (81% versus 68%). Wagner (1991) summarized her earlier work with the NLTS by concluding that youth who were graduated had noticeably higher rates of employment, earnings, postsecondary schooling, and community integration. A subsequent analysis of later NLTS youth with disabilities who had graduated or dropped out of school found that postsecondary school attendance (11% versus 37%) and competitive employment rates (47% versus 65%) continued to be much higher three to five years after leaving school (Blackorby & Wagner, 1996). Sitlington and Frank (1993) examined the post-school outcomes for over 1,000 youth with LD, including 101 dropouts. They noted that youth who dropped out had lower rates of employment (56% versus 77%). In contrast, a study of 86 youth with mild disabilities from rural Maryland found that youth who were graduated, as compared to peers who dropped out, had comparable rates of employment, hours of work, and earnings up to two years after leaving school (Karpinski, Neubert, & Graham, 1992). Finally, a study of 35 rural dropouts with LD and 60 dropouts without LD found comparable rates of employment, earnings, hours of work, and job classification over a one-year period after leaving school (Kortering & Braziel, 1998).

The overall purpose of the present study was to provide information to help educators begin to understand the perceptions youth with LD have of their high school programs. This understanding should help in the development of more effective interventions or strategies. Specific information sought included general information on youth perceptions of school, aspects of school that they perceive as meeting their needs and aspects that appear to be failing to meet their needs, and ideas for improvement. The study assumed that improving school completion rates involves tailoring programs and services to truly respond to the perceived needs of youth with LD. In fact, we suggest that meeting the individual needs, as perceived by our consumers, is the key to improving school completion rates.



Two county districts (District A and B) in a southeastern state were the setting for the study. Census data from 1995 showed population densities ranking 25th and 36th among the state's 100 counties and high school completion rates of 67% and 72% among adults 25 and over, respectively. The state social security commission reported December 2001 unemployment rates of 7.4 and 2.6, compared to a state average of 5.9. The per-pupil expenditures for the 1997/8 school year were $5,282 and $5,793, with a state average of $6,029 (Haynes, 1999). A measure of district poverty is provided by the overall percentage of students qualifying for free lunch, which was 37% and 27% relative to a state average of 40% in 1998 (Haynes, 1999). The median household money incomes were $32,113 and $31,013, both below state ($35,320) and national ($37,005) averages (United states Census Bureau, 2002).

The study setting provided participants from two distinct high school settings (School A and B). These schools were in adjacent counties and had school populations that were 80% and 96% white. School A had a minority population that was 12% African American, 6% Asian and 2% Hispanic, while School B's largest minority population was African American (2%). Both schools retain a public reputation of focusing on preparing students for college. For instance, in 1999 School B ranked fourth (1,055) in the state on the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT). School A was above the state average (983 versus 978), but below the national average (1,018) for the same period.


One hundred and eighty-five youth with LD participated in individual interviews during the 1998/9 or 1999/0 school year. During the first academic year of the study, we interviewed eligible participants in grades 9 to 12. The subsequent year, we interviewed incoming ninth graders. The interviews took place after participants had received their midterm grades for the respective fall semester. This timing ensured that all participants, including ninth graders, had sufficient experiences and information from which to form their perceptions. These participants represented over 94% of all youth identified as LD who attended the participating schools during the two school years of study. Nonparticipants were ill on the days of the interviews, unavailable because of schedule conflicts, or had dropped out of school before they could be interviewed. Two youth declined to participate. Table 1 provides key demographic information on the participants. This information came from the interviews or, in the case of achievement and intelligence test scores, from students' most recent psychological report or reevaluation.

Development and Field Testing of the Interview Protocol

We acknowledge that any study of this nature requires effective questions in a format that generates truthful responses (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Therefore, we went to great lengths to pose thoughtful, meaningful questions. Thirty-one special education teachers, two special education directors, and two school administrators reviewed the questions and format. Their ideas helped us to refine specific questions or form new lines of questioning.

In addition, we developed and field-tested the interview protocol in the following manner. The initial set of questions came from a review of the research on school dropout with particular attention to research focusing on student views of school and expert opinion of how to reduce school dropout rates (see Finn, 1989; Rossi, 1995; Wehlage, Rutter, Smith, Lesko, & Fernandez, 1989). The initial questions covered four specific areas: student background, school history, perceptions of school, and future ambitions. A set of four experienced special educators and four special education graduate students reviewed the initial interview protocol in 1994. These reviewers offered recommendations to improve specific questions, add new questions, and delete questions. Once revised, the interview protocol was used with samples of 11 and 24 youth in neighboring high schools to further screen questions.

The resulting major change involved the question that sought general recommendations for improving schools, which yielded few responses. The question was reworded to include prompts, such as specific requests for recommendations for the curriculum, teachers, administration, school activities, and other. Furthermore, it was found necessary to develop a standard definition of curriculum, which we described to students as their classes and textbooks. In addition, the question asking for examples of how a teacher had helped youth learn proved to be confusing for some. The subsequent revision included a specific request for an example of something that a teacher had done that helped them to learn. The authors have used the resulting protocol, or a similar version, with over 600 youth with and without disabilities representing 14 different high schools and a variety of geographic settings (see e.g., Kortering, Tompkins, & Braziel, 2002; Kortering & Braziel, 2001, 1999a, 1999b, 1998).

Data Collection

Participants received information about the study and the requirements for participation. This included an overview of the study and its rationale, and the offer of one dollar for about 15 minutes of their time (actual time ranged from 14 to 25 minutes). Each participant also received assurances of confidentiality through special codes and verbal guarantees of privacy, the right not to answer particular questions, and the right to end the interview at any time.

The decision to use individual face-to-face interviews, as opposed to focus group or small-group formats, reflects a belief that this approach offers inherent advantages, including higher response rates and increased honesty (Kidder & Judd, 1986). This format also responds to the concern that many youth are less inclined to talk about school in a more in-depth manner of voice their views in a group format.

Despite the many benefits, interviews also offer potential disadvantages, however, including the need for interviewer expertise, concerns for participant reactivity, a reduction in interview flexibility, and the potential effect of social acquiescence. We tried to offset these potential disadvantages in the following manner. First, both authors, trained and experienced special educators with advanced degrees in psychology and special education, conducted the interviews. In addition, participants were familiar with the authors because of their routine work in the schools, to include on-site classroom and technical support, as part of a federal grant. This familiarity was expected to reduce participant reactivity and social acquiescence. Furthermore, the interviews took place during regular school hours in a separate office of or an empty classroom. The former helped ensure that participants were in a comfortable setting, while the latter helped to minimize potential sources of influence (e.g., peer pressure, teacher influence and most distractions).

Data Truthfulness and Creditability

Any study of this nature warrants attention to trying to establish the truthfulness and believability of the resulting data. Several specific procedures were employed to address this concern. First, the structured format, based on a standard set of questions and prompts developed in consultation with experts, was consistent across interviews. We acknowledge that some types of interview research discourage such structure. For instance, Holstein and Gubruim (1995) noted that structured interviews too often shape what is said and may miss important information. Nonetheless, we thought it was important to use a consistent interview format and procedures so that individual teachers could replicate the process in their schools. We also thought that a one-on-one format over a brief time was the most efficient way to ensure that every youth's views would be heard. The downside of this approach is that it compromises the uncovering of more in-depth information that may have resulted from longer or more involved interviews.

Second, all responses were transcribed word for word. The transcription involved manually recording responses on an interview protocol for each participant as he or she provided a response to each question. A tape recording of 12 (6%) of the interviews provided an assessment of the data collection system's reliability. Specifically, we asked 14 students for their consent to have the interview taped and 12 agreed. The tape recording involved a mini-cassette recorder placed between the interviewer and the interviewee. A graduate student provided an independent transcription by listening to the taped versions and recording the responses. A second graduate student compared the two independent transcriptions (taped and original) using a word-by-word (for open-ended items) or response-by-response (for closed-ended responses) analysis. The percentage agreement across the open-ended responses was just over 94% (510 of a possible 521 word pairs were identical). Examples of errors included missing words (e.g., around, with, too, good, one time, I, yea) and different terms with similar meanings (e.g., be mean vs. get on your nerves, those people vs. they, some teachers vs. those teachers). None of the errors, in our opinion, appeared to change the gist of youth responses. The rate of agreement for closed-ended responses (e.g., basic demographic or family information) was over 98% (279 of 285 items were identical). Third, we followed the advice of Strauss and Corbin (1998) and Patton (2002) in developing categories that would allow for data reduction and a summary of key findings. We initially asked four graduate special education students who also were experienced classroom teachers and a doctoral student who was an administrator and former teacher student to review the constructed categories and the corresponding listing of quotes under each category. These reviewers offered independent appraisals of each of the categories and corresponding quotes, including quotes they felt were misplaced or categories that failed to capture the gist of the corresponding responses. In total they noted concerns with 27 individual quotes, but none of the constructed categories. We considered their comments and changed the quote's placement or corresponding category in 19 cases. We have posted all the quotes on a project website and will also provide them on request (see Note). This feature allows readers to review each quote and corresponding category. It offers another level of independent inspection as recommended by Patton (2002).


In the following, we report the results with separate tables for each question. The questions as presented to participants appear as table headings, followed by the constructed categories, corresponding number of responses, and illustrative quotes. The quotes, at times, are a small subset of the total number of quotes. To help ensure that selected quotes represented all the quotes, we used a random number table to select quotes in cases where we could not list over 50% of the quotes. We also limited the tables to include only categories that account for 10% or more of the quotes for their respective question. For additional clarity, the reader may visit our project website to inspect all of the corresponding quotes,

What Is the Best and Worst Part of School?

The best part of school drew responses from nearly all of the participants (see Table 2). Based on the responses, we developed categories that directed attention to three key considerations. First, participants enjoyed the opportunity to socialize with peers. Such socializing, as reported by participants, took place most often during breaks between or during class or during lunch. Second, participants appreciated classes that let them be active, experience success, and ones they found interesting in some way. Finally, a few participants felt that learning in some way was the best part of school. Minor categories, those that accounted for less than 10% of the quotes, included the food they got during their school lunch, leaving school, and teachers in some way.

Nearly all of the participants also responded to the question about the worst part of school. Three major categories emerged from the quotes. Specific classes that participants found boring or too difficult accounted for most of the responses. Educators whom participants viewed as mean, uncaring, or difficult accounted for the next largest set of responses. The final category entailed peers who were hard to get along with, had a bad attitude, or made fun of participants in some way. Minor categories included the length of the school day, length of classes, school rules, and difficulty with tests.

Perceived Advantages and Disadvantages of Staying in School

Participants were much more likely to report advantages to staying in school than disadvantages. Table 3 shows that perceived advantages focused on staying in school as the way to a better job and better education. Minor categories included seeing staying in school as a way to a better overall quality of life and important for getting to college. Disadvantages, as perceived by few participants, pointed to how staying in school interferes with employment, causes them to miss out on other things, and having to deal with educators.

School, Family, and Personal Changes to Help Participants Stay in School

Changes that participants felt would help them stay in school included suggestions directed at school, family, and themselves (see Table 4). Changes recommended for the school included access to more individual help for participants, rule changes, a change in attitude for some teachers, and a change in classes. Minor categories included making school more fun, assigning less homework, offering incentives, and individual student program changes. Family changes, while coming from a minority of participants, revealed only one category--more encouragement or support from parents. Personal changes accounted for most of the total responses to this question. Participants, in response to what they could do to stay in school, noted that they should work harder or earn better grades, change their attitude, and improve their behavior or attendance.

Examples of Teacher Help

We probed participants' perceptions of effective teaching by asking them to describe how a high school teacher had helped them to learn. We encouraged participants to recall how a teacher had helped them in some way. Table 5 displays how responses yielded four major categories. A teacher who offered special help of one deemed as caring accounted for the largest set of quotes, followed by examples of teachers who had offered individual instruction or assistance in some way. Participants also reported how teachers who used hands-on activities or took the time to explain things were most helpful. Minor categories included individual teachers who provided testing accommodations.

Other Recommendations for Improving Classes or Texts, Teachers, or Administrators

The final question offered participants a second chance to offer ideas on improving school (see Table 6). In this case, we directed their attention to changes that would improve their classes or texts, teachers, or administrators. Improving texts or classes drew calls for better textbooks and a reduction in class size. Changes for teachers included a change in attitude, better teaching, and being less strict. Changes for administrators coming from a few participants formed categories of being less strict and listening to students.


The study's limitations warrant consideration before a discussion of the results. Limitations include a sample of youth that represented two high schools. The overall proportion of Caucasian students, while comparable to the national population of 73% (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002), was higher than the national rate of Caucasian students (63%) with LD (Office of Special Education Programs, 2000). As a result, the participants may lack sufficient diversity in comparison to some settings. Future research on student perceptions should include larger and more diverse samples of youth with LD. A second limitation is the use of brief interviews focusing on the participant's general perceptions instead of probing for in-depth information. The use of brief interviews reflected our desire to establish preliminary information that might set the stage for future studies. We also had reservations about participants' willingness to take part in more extensive interviews and decided a focus-group format might yield the views of only a subset of youth. Indeed, our format allowed for every youth's comments to be heard. A third limitation involved acceptance of participant responses as truthful. We cannot verify the truthfulness of individual responses. As trained professionals, our opinion was that the participants were honest and we were impressed with their willingness to share their thoughts. Finally, we offset some of the limitations associated with research involving interviews by following suggestions by Constas (1992). For instance, the study allows access to all of the responses as provided to us, while detailing the development of the constructed categories.

The discussion of results begins with a belief that the goal of special education is to prepare youth for a productive adulthood, as promised with the initial passage of federal special education law (U.S. Congress and Administration News, 1975). Our ability as special educators to live up to such a promise begins with interventions and services that meet the unique needs of students. A key aspect of meeting these needs is information that helps us to understand the perceptions of our students. This understanding, in turn, should guide how we tailor individualized educational programs (IEPs) and subsequent interventions.

Implications for Practice

In combination, the findings revealed four major themes that have practical implications. First, one thing that emerged from the background information was that these participants with LD faced considerable challenges in high school. Their measured levels of intelligence and achievement (see Table 1) suggest that success in traditional academic settings would not be easy. Specifically, they were, assuming peers of average intelligence and achievement, well behind their peers in terms of their measured potential to learn and level of achievement in reading, math, and written language. Another example of the challenges they face involves a school history often characterized by failure or rejection on some level. For illustration, we gathered data on 9th-, 10th-, and 11th-grade general track peers from these same high schools on key variables. Compared to these peers, participants with LD showed higher rates of out-of-school suspension (21% vs. 50%) and repeating grades (25% vs. 53%). These indicators establish a pattern of difficulty in school and, when combined with an apparent limited capacity to succeed in academic endeavors, should demand attention. This attention includes a need to consider teaching strategies to help students to compensate for learning problems or academic limitations (deBettencourt & Sabornie, 1998) and helping them to succeed, or at least survive, in a setting where success has been elusive. A related consideration involves helping students to be more resilient in school settings or preparing them to deal with these barriers to success in some way (see Finn & Rock, 1997). This resilience should provide them with a better means to deal with the challenges they face in high school settings. In contrast to school-based features and academic skill levels, their rates of living with two parents (65% vs. 68%), qualifying for free lunch (35% vs. 30%), and having access to a father (57% vs. 66%) of mother (65% vs. 76) with at least a high school diploma were comparable to a separate sample of 406 general track peers. These features suggest promise, in the sense that participants with LD had access to a comparable level of what Coleman (1988) calls social capital. Social capital involves access to family members, family resources, and community-based support that can support such outcomes as high school graduation. Perhaps interventions need to focus on what might be conceptualized as school-based capital--or providing students with the resources and tools necessary for success in high school settings.

A second practical issue involves considering the possible interrelationship of antisocial behavior, academic failure, and school climate (see McEvoy & Welker, 2000). Our findings seem to support such an interrelationship. For instance, majorities of participants had been suspended and retained in at least one grade. The out-of-school suspension is notable in that both schools reserve this action for serious infractions or only after they have tried a series of in-school suspensions or other punishments. These factors, when combined with their measured potential to learn and achievement levels, establish a high likelihood of academic failure and antisocial behavior. When these factors are coupled with indices of a school climate that included references to negative encounters with teachers and classes, as reportedly perceived by many of the participants with LD, a disturbing pattern emerges. Youth with academic and social problems in school also experience what they perceive as poor teaching, boring courses, and frustrating relationships with educators. This pattern underscores the likelihood that many of these participants are unwilling of unable to endure four years in such a setting. This conceptualization, one of students who are academically challenged experiencing an environment they deem unhelpful, provides a framework for better understanding why students may leave school. Such an understanding should provide an insight into designing more appropriate interventions.

A third practical consideration is that after listening to this message time and time again, we could not ignore the responses that directed attention to the participants themselves. In our view, these comments showed that most participants wanted to succeed in high school and that they took some ownership for what it might take to succeed. Their comments, on a collective basis, also lend support to the concept of self-determination (see Eisenman & Chamberlin, 2001; Wehmeyer, Agran, & Hughes, 1999). It seems only natural to design interventions that help the participants respond to their suggestions to work harder or earn better grades, change their attitude in school, improve behavior, and come to school more often. We also assume these comments are in line with what many teachers want from their students. On an individual basis, these suggestions present an ideal component for students' IEPs. The job of high school teachers should include offering an opportunity for students to direct their educational and related services around what they want to accomplish so that they will stay in and succeed in school. The focus here should be on empowering students to take a more active role in what could become a truly "special' education.

A final practical consideration is that participants with LD conveyed a distinct impression of school. As consumers of services, they were able to perceive the good, the bad, and the ugly. It is up to us to listen, learn and hopefully orchestrate more effective high school services and teacher behaviors. We should not be content to listen to their voices with a sense of professional indifference or an attitude that we know what school is like better than they do. They identified what is "good' about high school settings. They want services and settings that help prepare them for a productive adulthood, which they define as a better job, an adequate education, and a better life in general. They also want opportunities to socialize with peers, learn what they need to know in their classes, and enjoy the time they spend in their classes. Finally, they see the good in teachers who offer individual help, let students know they care about them, explain things on an individual basis if necessary, and include hands-on activities in their lessons. These characterizations contrast to the "bad and the ugly,' which includes boring classes, teachers who have a bad attitude toward students, principals whom students perceive as not listening to their side, old or difficult texts, and large class sizes.
Table 1
Demographic Features of Study Participants

Variable x SD

Intelligence: Full-Scale IQ Score 91.6 (16.3)
 Verbal IQ Score 89.0 (16.8)
 Performance IQ Score 92.8 (17.3)
Achievement: (a) Reading Composite Score 82.5 (17.4)
 Math Composite Score 84.2 (13.2)
 Written Language Composite Score 76.7 (13.1)

 n %

Ever Repeated a Grade 98 (53%)
Enrolled in General Education Full Time 131 (70%)
Enrolled in General Education 75% Time 54 (30%)
Ever Suspended From School 92 (50%)
Grade Level at Time of Interview 9th 95 (51%)
 10th 34 (18%)
 11th 30 (16%)
 12th 26 (14%)
Percent Eligible for Free Lunch at School 64 (35%)
Percent Living with Two Parents 120 (65%)
Race (% White) 145 (79%)
Gender (% Male) 140 (78%)
Father with High School Diploma 105 (57%)
Mother with High School Diploma 125 (65%)

(a) Based on the respective composite scores for the Woodcock-Johnson
Test of Educational Achievement Revised or Weschler Individual
Achievement Test.
Table 2
The Best and Worst Parts of School

Category (# of Respondents) Illustrative Quotes

 Best Part of School (177 responses or 95% with 183 total
 responses (a))

Socializing with Peers (77 Meeting new students; Getting to be
or 44%) with friends; Social breaks between
 classes; Talking to my friends;
 Socializing; Friends

Particular Class or Classes English, you get to learn different
(65 or 37%) things; PE, I get buff; ROTC, we do
 neat stuff; Math is fun; Science is
 interesting; PE, we do activities;
 English, I like to write poems;
 Masonry, I like the work

Learning in Some Way Learning to get a good job; Learning
(18 of 10%) stuff that helps you in the future;
 Learning; Just learning, I like
 learning; Learning how to read;
 School keeps me thinking; Learning
 different things

 Worst Part of School (169 of responses or 91% with 173 total
 responses (b))

Particular Class or Classes Economics is boring; English is
(49 or 29%) boring; Geometry is hard and boring;
 Algebra is difficult to understand;
 Math, I can't do it

Schoolwork (31 or 18%) The schoolwork is too hard; Having
 to do work; Too much homework; Work
 is boring; Doing real hard work

Educators in Some Way Dealing with the administration;
(28 or 16%) Getting into trouble with teachers;
 Some teachers are mean; Teachers
 who yell; Listening to teachers

Peers in Some Way Some of the students are hard to get
(25 or 15%) along with; All the fights;
 Attitude of some of the kids;
 Students make fun of me

(a) Six responses were put under two themes (doublets).

(b) Four responses were put under two themes.
Table 3
Perceived Advantages and Disadvantages of Staying in School

Category (# of Responses) Illustrative Quotes

 Perceived Advantages (168 responses of 91% with 191 total
 responses (a))

Better Job (96 of 50%) Get a good job; Don't have to work
 in a fast-food restaurant; Paid more
 on a job; Better job with a diploma;
 Get a good job later in life; More
 likely to get a better job; Get a
 job easier

Get an Education (62 or 32%) Get a better education; Get your
 diploma so you can get a job; Learn
 more; Diploma; Get a degree; Good
 education; Learn

 Perceived Disadvantages (39 respondents of 21% with 41 responses)

Interferes with Employment Not being able to make money; Being
(11 or 27%) broke all the time; Can't make
 money; I can't have a full-time
 job; I could be working at $9 an
 hour; Don't get to work as much;
 Stay broke all the time

Missing out on other Things Takes up a lot of time; Less free
(10 or 24%) time; Don't have time to mope
 around; Not enough time to be with
 friends; Getting up early

Dealing with Educators Putting up with teachers; Having to
(10 or 24%) see teachers all day; Getting yelled
 at by teachers; Having to do what
 the teacher says

(a) Twenty-three responses were put under two themes (doublets).
Table 4
Changes That Would Help You Stay in School

Category (# of Responses) Illustrative Quotes

 School Changes (100 respondents of 54% with 101 responses (a))

More Individual Help Give me extra help on my work, help me
(18 of 18%) find a job; Help me with algebra;
 Helping more on stuff; More help when
 I need it

Rule Changes (17 or 17%) Put in smoking area, let us wear hats,
 get rid of tardy policy; Tone down some
 of the rules; Be easier on rules;
 Tardy policy is too strict; Don't
 suspend you for things like sniffing
 stuff; Tone down rules

Change in My Classes Easier classes; Make things more
(15 or 15%) exciting; More hands-on stuff; Make
 boring class more fun; Not require me
 to take vocational class; Get me into
 learning labs; Keep vocational program

Teacher Attitude Treat me like an adult; Don't let
(11 of 11%) teachers yell; I feel some teachers
 come over like they are better than
 students; Nicer teachers; Make the
 teachers less grouchy; They treat us
 like kids

 Family Changes (52 respondents of 28%)

More Encouragement Support me; My dad encouraging me;
(41 of 79%) Encourage me; Keep caring for me; Dad
 could be more supportive; Be there when
 I need help; Talk me into staying in;
 Fuss at me if I quit; Help me sometimes

 Personal Changes (133 respondents of 72% with 135 responses (b))

Work Harder/Better Do my work; Try a lot harder; Work
Grades (67 or 50%) hard; Work on reading and spelling;
 Study harder and get along with
 everybody, I guess; Try hard; Keep my
 grades up; Change the way I work in

Change Attitude Don't get stressed out from pressure of
(26 of 20%) academics and trying to get good
 grades; Not get frustrated; Enjoy it;
 Be happier; Have a positive attitude;
 Keep my mind on track; Take school more
 seriously; Believe in myself and do it

Improve Behavior Stay away from bad girls; Don't do bad
(15 or 11%) things; Do better all around; Don't
 get into trouble and do my homework;
 Listen better

Improve Attendance Go to credit make-up; Quit skipping;
(13 of 10%) Come every day; Just come as many days
 as I can; Just keep myself going to

(a) One response was put under two themes (doublet).

(b) Two responses were put under two themes (doublets).

(c) Learning labs are resource classrooms where students can
get help.
Table 5
Example of a Teacher Who Helped You in Terms of Learning (129
Respondents or 70%)

Category (# of responses) Illustrative Quotes

Special Help of Caring Pushed me; Telling more about things;
(32 of 25%) Broke down things for me; Teacher
 worked with me when I struggled; Took
 their time with me; Listened to my
 problems; Being more involved with
 kids; She didn't yell and helped you

Individualized Instruction One on one with me; Helped me when I
(28 of 22%) needed it; Sit down and actually
 explain what they mean; Helped me
 individually with my work; Went around
 and helped each student individually

Used Hands-On Activities Hands-on experiments; Hands-on stuff;
(19 or 16%) More hands-on activities; Showing us
 hands-on activities; Can't do
 bookwork, that's just it--hands-on
 stuff instead; More hands-on
 experiences like experiments

Explained Things to Me So Explained stuff; Explained it better;
I Learned (17 or 13%) Mnemonics; Not teaching out of book
 and teaching me instead; Made things
 easier for me
Table 6
Other Ideas for Improving Your Classes or Texts, Teachers, and

Category (# of responses) Illustrative Quotes

 Improving Classes or Texts (72 respondents or 39% with 73
 responses (a))

Better Texts (44 or 60%) Give us new texts; Be up to date; Newer
 textbooks; Algebra book is too hard;
 Texts could be in better shape; Make
 them more accurate; Some of the stuff
 is old and crappy

Reduce Class Size My science class is too large; Some
(7 or 10%) classes are too large; Smaller number
 of students; Smaller classes; Less
 people in class

 Improving Teachers (114 respondents or 62%)

Change in Attitude Some teachers hold grudges; Treat
(34 of 30%) students better; Some need to change
 their attitude; Be sure teachers really
 care about students, not just look
 good as a teacher; Not yell so much;
 Be nicer

Teach Better (20 or 18%) Teach more; Lecture less; Teach more
 subjects that relate to our jobs; Some
 could teach more; Be more interested in

Be Less Strict They could be less strict; Not as
(13 or 10%) strict; Not so strict Improving
 Administration (26 respondents of 14%)

 Improving Administration (26 respondents or 14%)

Less Strict (7 or 27%) Not be so strict; Vice principal is
 mean; Stop being so cruel

Listen to Students Listen to our side; Listen to both
(5 or 19%) sides before you judge

Talk to Students Sit and talk to us, not suspend; Walk
(4 of 15%) around and visit classes and ask how
 we are doing; Go out and talk to
 students, not just sit in office

(a) One response was put under two themes (doublets).


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The Office of Special Education Programs helped support this research through model demonstration (E-H158V70066) and directed research (H323D990020) grants. A reporting of all the quotes is accessible at our website: projects/specialed/

Requests for reprints should be addressed to: Larry Kortering, Appalachian state University, 124 Duncan Hall, Boone, NC 28608 or

LARRY KORTERING, Ph.D., is associate professor in Special Education, Appalachian state University.

PATRICIA BRAZIEL, M. Ed., is project coordinator, Improving Student Performance in Core Subjects Grant, Appalachian state University.
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Author:Braziel, Patricia
Publication:Learning Disability Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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