Dissertation: Students With Disabilities Who Did Not Complete

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¶ … Students With Disabilities Who Did Not Complete High School

Richard Wieringo

This case study explores the experiences of students with disabilities who have dropped out of high school, so as to identify related factors that led to their decisions. Participants will include both males and females who were designated as students with disabilities at Ridgeville High School (pseudonym for a Virginia high school) and who dropped out between their third and fourth years of high school, during the 2009 to 2012 academic school years. All participants will be between the ages of 18 and 21. The proposed research design is a phenomenological study to be conducted through the use of semi-structured interviews, journaling, and observation of the sample population, with the aim of identifying common experiences among students who have dropped out of school close to graduation. The results of the semi-structured interviews will be examined using reductive qualitative analysis, which will include the use of coding and extraction of themes. Implications of the results will be discussed.


Table of Contents



Definition of Terms

Chapter One/Introduction 11


Problem Statement

Purpose of the Study

Research Questions

Research Plan



Theoretical Framework

Teacher Training and Implementation of Inclusion

Inadequate Standards for IEP Programming

Exit Exams

Inclusion Practices that Don't Support Students




Research Questions

110 (Merriam, 2009).

The Coding Process


Ethical Considerations

14 (Pesko, 2008)6Situation to Self



Definition of Terms

Disability: As stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, disability is defined as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities" (Jacob, Decker, & Harsthorne, 2010, p. 130).

Dropout: A student who has officially dropped out of school. Dropouts usually have not attended school for one year, with the intention of not graduating.

Dropout prevention: Strategies, techniques, and programs that have the objective and/or result of decreasing dropout rates.

Dropping out: This concept has been defined by Finn & Dynarski,(2007) as a slow process of disengagement that usually begins early in one's school career and is manifested in warning signs like absenteeism and low grades. The process ends in the decision to ultimately quit school with the intention of not graduating.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): A law that guarantees that children with disabilities are provided with early intervention, special education, and other related services that aim to give them equal opportunities.

Inclusion: The act and concept of including students with disabilities in regular classrooms and schools without special treatment, supposedly so that they will feel that they belong and so that they can immerse themselves in general society.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP): A program specifically designed to address the distinctive needs of children, especially those with disabilities. IEPs are mandated by IDEA and are subject to federal regulations.

No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB): A law was enacted by the United States Congress to upgrade American primary and secondary education by holding states, school districts, and schools accountable for achieving academic standards and by providing parents more freedom of choice when their local schools are not producing acceptable student achievement.

Qualitative data analysis (QDA): A flexible process of noticing things, collecting data, and contemplating what the data suggest.

Special education: Specialized instruction for students with disabilities (Conderman & Pedersen, 2005, p. 90).

Student engagement: Active student participation in school activities (both academic and extracurricular), which typically leads to positive attitudes and behaviors regarding school and a desire to perform well in school (Harris, 2008).


The United States has had a well-documented struggle with dropout rates in public education. Tyler and Lofstrom (2009) reported that the United States high school dropout rate consistently fluctuates between 22% and 25%. The Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center (2010) estimated that approximately 1.3 million youths drop out of high school every year. Of these, many are considered to be students with disabilities. Feng and Sass (2010) reported that the likelihood that students with educational challenges, such as those in special education, will drop out of school is double that of their peers. Furthermore, Mellard (2005) noted, "Even though it is easy to talk about dropout rates, it is much harder to keep track of them. Tracking special education dropout rates is challenging. Yet, such information is critical in communicating the significant dropout issues of youth with disabilities to Congressional and state lawmaking bodies, state and local commissioners, and the general community." (Iosifides, 2011)

Therefore, the effort to address the challenges of high school dropouts should include examining the significant subpopulation of students with disabilities who opt to discontinue their high school education. This qualitative case study will explore the lived experiences of individuals with disabilities who dropped out of a selected high school between 2009 and 2012 and examine the issues and policies that affect the school dropout issue among youth with disabilities. This chapter provides relevant background about the issue, as well as an explanation of the research problem and purpose. The research questions that will guide the study are presented, and the nature of the study is discussed. The chapter concludes by presenting the organization of the remainder of the study.


In today's information age, financial stability and professional achievement are strongly correlated with educational attainment (Gratz, 2009). Obtaining a high school diploma significantly enhances a young person's capacity to earn a living wage and to assure economic security (Spring, 2008). Individuals who drop out of high school thus enter the job market at a disadvantage. As Levin (2009) noted, "High school graduation captures both the cognitive and the non-cognitive attributes that are important for success in adulthood, and it is usually a minimum requirement for engaging in further training and higher education" (p. 8). Higher education, in turn, characteristically enhances opportunities for advancement in a chosen profession (Gratz, 2009). Today's world is widely considered a "knowledge-driven economy" where employability is measured by one's level of education and unique set of skills (Kennedy, 2010, p. 821). Arguably, education and special skills are acquired through attending high school and are further enhanced and developed during postsecondary education.

Conversely, a student who does not graduate from high school encounters seemingly insurmountable obstacles in securing employment in an increasingly competitive market (Tyler & Lofstrom, 2009). The recent economic recession has further narrowed dropouts' job opportunities (Fogg, Harrington, & McMahon, 2010). Dropping out of high school is a strong predictor of serious negative consequences for both the individual and society (?troth-r, 2006).

These already formidable challenges are further exacerbated for the high school dropout with a disability. Individuals with disabilities typically feel alienated throughout their high school experiences (Edgerton, 2001). As they venture out into mainstream society, these problems carry over and are intensified by the students' frequent dependence on welfare and health services and their difficulties in meeting the demands of society (Tymchuk, Lakin, & Luckasson, 2001).

Students with disabilities who require special accommodations in the workforce routinely face obstacles in securing employment even when they are well educated (Ford, 2007). When individuals with disabilities drop out of school, they may be inadequately prepared for the challenges of gaining and maintaining employment, and thus at risk of becoming unproductive citizens (McNeal, 2011). Vilhjalmsdottir (2010, p. 678) reported that "dropping out of school is a move that can have dramatic consequences in a career." The added challenge of managing the barriers associated with a disability in the workplace can have significant consequences.

Dropout prevention is presented as an effective strategy for increasing literacy rates, expanding career opportunities, and decreasing unemployment rates among students with disabilities. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2001) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) both support the goal of decreasing dropout rates for the general populace as well as for students with disabilities. The standard elements of dropout prevention programs include

Raising standards and expectations relative to students and programs for aiding young people at risk to ensure that they meet these higher standards and expectations;

Identifying early warning signs of dropping out and intervening effectively (Knight & Ruddock, 2008).;

Improving instruction in the classroom;

Teacher and school accountability;

Improving teacher quality;

Including vocational training and counseling as a part of the school curriculum; and Including and improving participation in schools by families, peers, and the community, particularly with respect to support for students at risk (Martin & Fabes, 2008).

One important limitation of these efforts is that their success has been primarily measured through the use of standardized assessments (Abedi, 2004), which have been widely criticized for failing to address the unique needs of students with disabilities. (Boeije, 2009) argued that students already struggling with achievement in schools can expect to find the stringent standards imposed by standardized testing unattainable; feeling hopeless, these students are likely to give up their educational pursuits at the earliest opportunity. It has also been argued that standardized testing and assessment negatively affect the motivation of some students and thus increase the dropout… [END OF PREVIEW]

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