Roughly 15 percent of Kansas and Missouri children with certain learning disabilities drop out of high school, according to a recent national report.
The latest “State of Learning Disabilities” report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities assesses the progress — and the work yet to be done — to improve the educational performance of students with some learning or attention challenges. Roughly 20 percent of students nationally have such a disability.
Among the learning disabilities considered in the report released last month are dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
But officials who analyzed national data said they believe there are many more students with attention and learning challenges who are not identified as having a specific learning disability.
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“They are in every classroom,” said Meghan Casey Whittaker, policy and advocacy manager with the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
Mimi Corcoran, president and CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said in a recent statement that “children with learning and attention issues are as smart as their peers and with the right support can achieve at high levels, but a lack of early or effective interventions leads too many kids on a downward spiral.”
This is the center’s fourth look at the state of learning for children with disabilities. For the first time the report is entirely online and includes state-by-state snapshots and data tables.
In Kansas, according to the report, more than 24,000 children get special education for some form of learning disability, and most of them — nearly 80 percent — spend the bulk of their school day in a general education classroom.
The report, in its introduction, says that children with learning and attention issues are too often “misunderstood as lazy or unintelligent.” It says that without the right academic or emotional support, those students are “much more likely than their peers to repeat a grade, get suspended and drop out.”
In Kansas, about 16 percent of students with a specific learning disability — meaning some challenge that impacts attention and learning — dropped out of high school during the 2014-15 academic year.
That compares to an 18.1 percent national rate for such students, which is nearly three times the overall national dropout rate of 6.5 percent.
“Kansas State Department of Education is working hard with Kansas educators to implement appropriate instructional practices that will truly meet the needs of all students,” said Ann Bush, a spokeswoman for the department. “Our efforts are ongoing, and we continue to refine training. It is a concern for us. We want everyone to succeed.”
South Carolina had the highest dropout rate for students with a specific learning disability, at 33 percent. Eleven other states had dropout rates of 25 percent or higher for such students in the 2014-15 academic year.
The same data was not available for Missouri in the 2014-15 academic year. The state only reported the dropout rate for all students identified as having some type of disability-labeled challenge, including blindness and deafness.
Missouri educators did not break down their student data for what the center identifies as specific learning disabilities, Whittaker said.
Contacted by The Star about the report, Missouri education officials said the state calculates dropout rates differently from the center. The state shows its dropout rate for the total number of students with disabilities for the 2014-15 school year as roughly 2.4 percent.
The center has Missouri’s rate for that year at 14 percent.
Included in the national report is a list of some of the many factors that can lead a student to drop out. Lack of appropriate instruction or being taught in a way that doesn’t enable a student to learn top the list. Also included:
▪ School climate, such as bullying or in adequate resources for instruction
▪ Low expectations for student success
▪ Student behavior such as chronic absenteeism
▪ Family issues, lack of parent involvement and access to health services
▪ Community stressors such as high crime
But when it comes to the link between students with specific learning disabilities, the report points a finger at national education funding.
“Part of the problem in fully addressing the needs of students with disabilities is a lack of funding,” the report says. “In 2016, the federal government covered 16 percent of the extra cost of special education — far below the 40 percent that Congress promised to fund — leaving states to grapple with a multibillion-dollar shortfall in special education funding.”