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The Tenth Annual Report to Congress: taking a significant step in the right direction.

ABSTRACT: The author presents a critical examination of the U.S. Department of Education's Tenth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of Public Law 94-142: The Education of All Handicapped Children Act. It appears that the overall results of the report contribute significantly to painting an accurate picture about efforts made to provide adequate instructional environments for school-aged children, who exhibit learning disabilities. The most telling conclusion, however, is that ethnic minority children generally, and Black economically disadvantaged children in particular, are not reaping comparable instructional benefits from these special programs, as are their white counterparts. As a matter of fact, the data reveal a striking parallel between Black students who drop out of "special programs" and those who are disadvantaged by their socio-economic backgrounds, and who tend to drop out of "regular education. " In light of these curious trends, the author proposes that a comprehensive follow-up study be conducted. The purpose of this investigation is to determine the extent to which interactive factors are contributing to the dropout problem, as evidenced by Black students with learning disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education's Tenth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of The Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA) subtitled, "To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of All Handicapped Children" (1988) contains information that highlights the problems of handicapped youth who drop out of school. Data for the 1985-1986 school year reveal that 56,156 students aged 16 to 21 dropped out of high school before completing their education. This number represented about 26% of the total existing population of students with handicaps. The figure reflects an estimate of those who were actually known to have dropped out and did not include youth who simply stopped coming to school or whose status was unknown. Therefore, the dropout figure probably exceeds 26%. When compared with statistics from the previous year, the dropout rate increased by 5%.


Students with learning disabilities are more inclined to drop out of school than those from other groups with handicaps. Taken together, the number of of emotionally disturbed and mentally retarded students who drop out is approximately equal to the number of students with learning disabilities who do so. Along this same line, data from the 1987 issue of The Condition of Education pinpoints an additional concern that tends to characterize the dropout issue that is unique to ethnic minority students. For example, the percentage of Black students in learning disability classes more than doubled between 1978 and 1984, from 2.2% to 4.5%. In a similar vein, the enrollment of all students in learning disability classes increased from 2.3% to 4.2% during this same time frame (p. 66). It could have been expected that the rate for Black students would increase at a level commensurate with the increase for the general population. That, in and of itself, does not provide cause for sounding the alarm, although it does pique our curiosity with regard to what is contributing to this increase. What is worthy of note, however, is the fact that children with learning disabilities are known to be more dropout prone, and the rate of increase signals a substantial increase in the absolute number of students, especially Blacks, who are likely not to graduate from high school.

Examination of the data on high school completion rate reveals that three-quarters of all 18- and 19-year-olds nationally have completed high school. Of those 20- to 24-year-olds, the proportion who have completed high school has remained around 84% since 1974. In addition, the high school completion rate among Black youth has gone up from 56% in 1974 to 65% in 1986 for 18- to 19-year-olds-and for 20- to 24-year-olds, from 72% to 81%, respectively (p. 28). In both categories, there has been an increase in the proportion of Black youth graduating from high school. Yet, the rates for both Black and Hispanic students are still lower than the rate for their white counterparts.

Thus, it appears that renewed interest in the dropout rate is due to at least four factors. First, though the rate has been relatively constant over time, two ethnic minority groups of the general population have shown significant increases. Second, with national increases in minority populations that have had higher dropout rates than that of whites, dropout rates can be expected to increase. Third, largely because of the educational reform movement, academic course requirements have increased for high school graduation. Increased academic demands may result in higher failure rates, which will lead more at-risk students to drop out. Finally, the educational requirements of work are expected to increase in the future, thereby placing dropouts in a more disadvantaged position in the job market.

Concern for the dropout problem is based on a belief that leaving high school before graduation is bad for the individual and society. The major consequences of dropping out of school for students with handicaps include poor employment potential, fewer opportunities for further education, and lower earnings for those employed.


It is critical to emphasize that the largest percentage of handicapped dropouts comes from the learning disabled category. Although attention must be focused on the needs of dropouts, a concerted effort also must be made to prevent this phenomenon from occurring. The importance of early intervention to prevent future problems has been demonstrated in recent federal legislation affecting at-risk preschool children. Students with learning disabilities are characterized by poor school achievement, even though they possess at least average learning aptitude. Their lower educational performance has a negative impact on feelings of self-esteem and the belief that they can succeed with school-related learning. The cumulative effects of poor school achievement and feelings of failure make them vulnerable to the lure of dropping out. Consequently, waiting until students drop out of school before providing assistance may not undo the harm that has resulted from an ongoing experience of failure. The rate of high school completion among Blacks and Hispanics in comparison to whites is further documentation of the urgent need to initiate the next step to identify and ameliorate the circumstances and conditions that lead these youngsters to drop out.

It is in this context that I propose that efforts be made to study this problem. Systematic strides must be taken to devise a diagnostic assessment battery that will identify potential dropouts in the elementary grades, before they choose to leave school. Psychological and educational tests have an accepted tradition of being used to predict future behavior. An assessment battery that could identify specific cutoff scores and predict the possibility of dropping out with at least 80% accuracy would give educators a valuable tool.

Because students with learning disabilities must possess at least average learning aptitude to be eligible for services, one aspect of the study could focus on obtaining a nonbiased estimate of each student's learning aptitude. One, or a series of achievement and learning/ processing tasks also can be administered to elementary-age students included in the proposed study. Students in the study may be tested once or twice over a 3- to 5-year period. Periodic testing may be needed to determine whether the learning aptitude-achievement discrepancy increases, decreases, or remains the same. Because of the possible negative impact poor school achievement has on classroom behavior and feelings of self-esteem, behavior ratings made by classroom teachers and a measure of students' self-concept or self-esteem can also be included in the assessment battery.

Elementary children chosen for the study could be followed into high school to determine whether they drop out or graduate.

Based on test scores and the decision to drop out or graduate from school, a statistical procedure can be used to determine the "best fit" of the data to predict completion of high school. A diagnostic profile can be obtained that differentiates at-risk dropouts from students who graduate. In addition, that profile could be subjected to a statistical analysis to predict, with at least 80% accuracy, the potential for dropping out. With this information, the school staff would be in a better position to identify at-risk children in the elementary grades and initiate appropriate intervention techniques to increase the likeliness of graduating from high school.

Finally, we can observe how the dramatic increase in multicultural and multiethnic students in school systems with large enrollments further underscores the urgency of the dropout issue. Perhaps even more important, there is a critical need to investigate this problem in a way that recognizes the interactive effects among factors associated with learning disability, race, and ethnicity.
Center for Education Statistics. (1987) The condition
 of education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government
 Printing Office.
U.S. Department of Education (USDE), Office of
 Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
 (1988). Annual report to Congress on the implementation
 of the Education for All Handicapped
 Children. Washington, DC: Author.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Council for Exceptional Children
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wyche, Lamonte G., Sr.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Sep 1, 1989
Previous Article:Tenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Education of the Handicapped Act.
Next Article:Educating all children: ten years later.

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