Minnesota Title V MCH Needs Assessment Fact Sheets

Children with Special Health Needs

School Completion

Summer 2004

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Size of the Problem

The high school diploma is the final indicator of student success in the K-12 educational system. National studies have shown the dropout rate for students with disabilities is approximately twice that of general education students. [1]

In Minnesota, a student with a disability can either graduate with a regular diploma, or by completing the goals and objectives specified in their IEP/IIIP. [2]

Nearly 2500 students receiving special education services dropped out of school in 2002. Three percent of 10th grade students in special education and 5% of 11th grade students in special education dropped out of school - both somewhat more likely than same-grade regular education peers.

The overall graduation rate for students in special education dropped slightly (from 62% to 59%) between 1999 and 2001. The most significant drop in graduation rates was among students with cognitive disabilities.


Geographic Differences:
Special education students in both the largest school districts (Minneapolis and St. Paul) and the smallest districts (enrollments less than 500) have much higher drop out rates than the state average.

Differences by Type of Disability:
Regardless of grade level, students with emotional / behavioral disorders are twice as more likely to drop out than children in any other disability category [4].

Percent of Special Education Students Dropping Out by Grade and Size of School District [3]

District Size



11 th







Mpls/St. Paul



















500 - 999





< 500





Outcomes in 12th Grade by Disability Cluster

Disability Cluster

Drop out (%)

Graduate (%)

Continue (%)





Learning Disabled












Physical, Health Impaired, TBI




Hearing/Vision Imp, Deaf/blind








Differences by Race and Economics:

A 2002 National Center for Education Statistics found that students most likely to drop out come from Hispanic, African-American, Native American, and low-income backgrounds; live in single-parents homes; and attend large urban schools. [5]

Students with disabilities are included in the "all students" agenda of the No Child Left Behind Act standards-based reform and have been identified as being among the lowest performing students on current high-stakes tests. Accountability without the necessary opportunities and support for youth with disabilities to achieve these high standards may increase their dropout rate and failure to successfully complete school. [6]

"For kids with disabilities who drop out of high school, the likelihood is that they will never come back. Girls are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies; boys to get into trouble with the law."[7]

Today, the United States exists within a global community. Required skills are ever increasing and most jobs demand at least a high school diploma. Youth who drop out experience negative outcomes: unemployment, underemployment, and incarceration. Arrest rates are alarming for youth with disabilities who drop out of school: 73% for students with emotional/behavioral disabilities and 62% for students with learning disabilities. [8]

"Individuals who do not obtain a high school diploma face bleak economic prospects over their entire working lives."[9] A 2003 Canadian study looked at high school dropout behavior and estimated the long-run economic consequences to leaving school early; one additional year of high school raises present value earnings by about 2 to 3 times a dropout's maximum lifetime annual wage. [10]


Studies have shown that children at risk of dropping out can be detected as early as third grade. Early intervention can help. Student performance on basic skills in the third grade is a major predictor of future educational success. Children who cannot read well in the third grade are far more likely to eventually become dropouts. [11]

What happens at the school-building level is the key to keeping students in school. It is important for each school to develop ways for students to create personal relationships with at least one member of the staff. However, feeling connected isn't enough. They need extra help while they are still in elementary school. Also, schools with lower drop out rates have transition programs to help students take the leap from elementary to middle school and then again from middle school to high school. [12]

A 2002 study focused on a program for secondary students designed to reduce drop-outs. The methodology used was

  • calling students when absent,
  • contacting parents,
  • making personal contact with youth when they are in school, and
  • assisting students with personal and family problems.

The intervention gained $112 per day in pupil reimbursement for each day of absence that was prevented. [13]

A comprehensive plan to reduce dropout rates would include the following components:

  • systems to collect and report dropout data for different groups of students;
  • programs to identify and help students who are most likely to drop out of school;
  • policies to reduce excessive absenteeism; and
  • special assistance for particular groups of students, such as teen parents, children of migrant workers, and children whose native language is not English. [14]

However, dropout problems cannot be solved by schools alone. Preventing students from dropping out of school requires services from and cooperation among schools, community agencies and local businesses. [15]


No Child Left Behind requires schools to test children annually in the basic skills of reading and math beginning from third grade through the eighth grade.

Minneapolis has a "Check and Connect" model currently being replicated and field tested for youth with and without disabilities in grades K-12 in urban and suburban communities. This is a comprehensive approach toward promoting students' engagement. Key features include:

  • relationship building;
  • routine monitoring of alterable indicators (attendance, academic performance, behavior);
  • individualized and timely intervention;
  • long-term commitment (at least two years);
  • persistence plus (persistent source of academic motivation, a continuity of familiarity with the youth and family and a consistency in the message that "education is important for your future");
  • problem solving, (e.g resolving conflicts); and
  • affiliation with school and learning (a sense of belonging to school encouraged through participation in school-related activities). [16]

1. Thurlow, M.L., Sinclair, M.F., Johnson, D.R. [June 2002] Students with Disabilities who Drop Out of school-Implications for Policy and Practice. Issue Brief. National Center on Secondary education and Transition; Vol.1:Issue 2; p.1.
2,3. MNCimp. "Local Improvement Efforts SR 2002-2003 Reports." Minnesota Department of Education. http://www.mncimp.net/Local_Efforts/District_Data_Reports.htm. [Attn: Non-MDH Link] 5/29/04.
4. Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning.[2003] "Minnesota Children with Disabilities".
5. Leaving Schools Behind: When Students Drop Out. [March 2004]. College of Education, U. Minn. p.2. http://education.umn.edu/research/ResearchWorks [Attn: Non-MDH Link] (website accessed 6-21-04).
6. Thurlow, M.L., Sinclair, M.F., Johnson, D.R. [June 2002] Students with Disabilities who Drop Out of school-Implications for Policy and Practice. Issue Brief. National Center on Secondary education and Transition; Vol.1:Issue 2; p.1.
7. Hehir, Tom. [Summer/Fall 1998] Point of Departure; PACER Center; Vol. 4, No. 1; p.2.
8. Wells, C. [Sept. 2003] New Approaches to Truancy Prevention in Urban Schools. ERIC Digest; Number 186; p.2.
9. Thompson, Tita [5-14-03] New Study Uncovers Hidden Dropout Crisis. Business Roundtable - Education & the Workforce; p.1. http://www.businessroundtable.org/taskForces/ [Attn: Non-MDH Link] (website accessed 6-21-04).
10. Oreopoulos, Philip [November 2003] Do Dropouts Drop Out too Soon? International Evidence From Changes in School Leaving Laws; p.3. oreo@economics.utoronto.ca (Website accessed 6-21-04).
11. Thompson, Tita [5-14-03] New Study Uncovers Hidden Dropout Crisis. Business Roundtable - Education & the Workforce; p.2. http://www.businessroundtable.org/taskForces/ [Attn: Non-MDH Link] (website accessed 6-21-04).
12. Dunne, D.W. [Sept. 1, 2000] Strategies to Keep Kids in School; Education World; p.7. www.educationworld.com. [Attn: Non-MDH Link] (website accessed 6-21-04).
13. Gerrard,M.D., Burhans, A, Fair, J. [August 2003] Effective truancy prevention and intervention. Wilder Research Center, 1295 Bandana Boulevard North, Suite 2310, St. Paul, Mn 55108; p.8.
14. Reducing Dropout Rates [2000] Southern Regional Education Board; p.4. www.sreb.org [Attn: Non-MDH Link] (website accessed 6-21-04).
15. Reducing Dropout Rates [2000] Southern Regional Education Board; p.18. www.sreb.org [Attn: Non-MDH Link] (website accessed 6-21-04).
16. About the Check & Connect School Dropout Prevention Model [June 1, 2004]; p.1 & 2. http://ici.umn.edu/checkandconnect/model [Attn: Non-MDH Link] (Website accessed 6-21-04).