Why Students with Disabilities Are Performing Poorly

The previous post highlights the fact that in the United States, scores of students with disabilities in the national test are falling behind the scores of students with no disabilities. When a gap in academic achievement shows up between two groups of students, one cannot avoid but ask how and why. Students with disabilities are of course neither necessarily nor naturally less gifted academically than students with no disabilities. Students with disabilities may have special needs or require accomodations, but the lower scores do not automatically suggest that these needs are currently not being met inside the classroom. It is a possibility but there are certainly other reasons that may lead to poorer academic perfomance among students with disabilities. One factor that strongly correlates with performance on these tests is attendance. A recent post on this blog also shares the fact that students with disabilities are more often suspended than students without disabilities. Therefore, all it takes is to connect the dots. Students with disabilities are suspended more often. These students miss school and poor attendance correlates with poor academic performance.

The correlation between attendance and performance in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams has been demonstrated in a study five years ago:
Fifty-six percent of 8th graders who performed at the advanced level in NAEP reading in 2011 had perfect attendance in the month before the test, compared with only 39 percent of students who performed below the basic level. In comparison, nearly one in five 8th graders at the basic level and more than one in four below basic in reading had missed three or more days in the past month.
Missing class is strongly correlated with poorer performance. It should not be surprising that attendance correlates with academic achievement. This is already seen even at preschool according to a study done in Chicago:

Above figure copied from
Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools

The effect of attendance is even more pronounced for students with greater needs (those with lower prior skills). The effects are compounding across all learning outcomes measurements in preschool. More importantly, it has been noted in this blog that these effects are long lasting. Absences in kindergarten are correlated with poor performance in fifth grade.

Finally, students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended.

Students with disabilities are already more prone to missing school if they feel bullied, harassed, or even just out of place in school. If we are suspending them more often then we are simply making their situation worse. We are not only neglecting to respond to their needs. Worse, we are really setting students with disabilities for failure.


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