Effective Policies and Practices of Virginia Districts Meeting Graduation Performance Indicators for Students with Disabilities: A Delphi Study
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Historically, there are persistent diploma gaps permeating between general education students and students with disabilities. In comparison to their peers, there are fewer youth with disabilities graduating from high school with regular diplomas. Regular diploma attainment is of critical importance because this credential is viable to postsecondary outcomes such as higher education and meaningful employment. An analysis of graduation outcomes in Virginia from 2010-2013 revealed that 19 of 132 school divisions met or exceeded statewide performance expectations for youth with disabilities. In alignment with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2010, the Virginia Department of Education monitors and reports Indicator 1: Percent of youth with Individualized Education Programs graduating from high school with a regular diploma using the adjusted four-year cohort graduation rate. Indicator 1 is among four secondary education and transition data indicators that are federally monitored, collected, and analyzed to determine progress or lack of progress. The purpose of this study was to identify the policies and practices that special education directors perceived as contributing to meeting the state graduation performance measures for youth with disabilities in 10 Virginia school divisions during the 2010-2013 school terms. A three-round Delphi method was employed to seek consensus from a panel of Special Education Directors whose divisions are consistently meeting Indicator 1 performance measures. Investigated were their perceptions of best practices and strategies that are paramount in graduating students with disabilities with a regular diploma or higher. Panelists identified 70% or greater agreement on the importance of six (60%) strategies contributing to regular diploma attainment for this population of students. These statements of practice were determined to be of considerable importance (rated as critically effective or somewhat effective), and in rank order were: 1) providing targeted interventions such as remediation, tutoring, and credit recovery options; 2) conveying high expectations; 3) tracking and monitoring; 4) IEP development with emphasis on Transition, student family participation, exploring continuum options, accommodations and modifications, assessment, and diploma status; 5) promoting learning, attendance, and a positive school environment; and 6) policies that support all students. Further, a theme emerged as it relates to implementation on four of the six statements of practice on which consensus was reached in the final Delphi round. The data provided evidence that student engagement, parental involvement, and building positive relationships with an adult are important factors in support of the identified strategies toward graduating these youth with a regular/standard diploma. Implications for practice were recommended for school and division leaders, and state policymakers.
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