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'Building a Grad Nation' Report Outlines Challenges in Special Education

The graduation rate for students with disabilities is slowly increasing, but a report released Tuesday by a group of education organizations notes that different state policies make it difficult to determine whether those students are being held to the same standards as their peers in general education. 

Building a Grad Nation, a report produced by America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, Everyone Graduates Center, and the Alliance for Excellent Education, notes that the country overall is on track to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020.

The graduation rate for all students in 2012-13 was 81.4 percent. For students with disabilities, it was 62 percent. But, as the report noted, states have different policies in place that can allow students with disabilities to graduate with a "standard" diploma. That includes reducing credit requirements, allowing students to skip certain tests or earn a lower score and still be counted as passing, or getting extended time to meet standards. In addition, many states have different certificate options that allow students with disabilities to complete school, but that don't count as a regular diploma.

The atmosphere inside school also affects students in special education. For example, they are restrained and secluded and suspended from school at rates far higher than their peers in general education, the report notes. 

The Grad Nation report offers a number of recommendations—they include reporting discipline data with an eye to preventing disproportionate punishment, and limiting the number of high-school exit options, with the goal of getting more special education students on a path to a regular diploma. 

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