Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Special Education and Literacy Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Shaila Rao

Second Advisor

Sarah Summy

Third Advisor

Amy Schelling


graduation rate, high school, graduation attainment, longitudinal study


Graduation from high school is an important measure of success for both schools and individuals. While requirements for graduation change, the rate at which students receive a diploma within four years is on the rise. But students who receive special education services continue to have a lower graduation rate than the general population. It is imperative for both schools and individual students to increase this rate and close the gap for those receiving a diploma.

The purpose of this study is to examine that gap between graduation rates for the total population of a high school in West Michigan compared to the graduation rates for students receiving special education services in that same school. After a review of the possible alterable school aspects that contribute to graduation, the study examines four factors through a non-experimental, ex post facto design in order to test and measure possible relationships to on-time graduation rates for students with special needs ending their four years at HS during the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. Participation in team- and co-taught classes, duration of relationship with special education case manager, coursework in relevant curriculum, and attendance data was statistically measured against the graduation rates of the total population and each cohort graduating year.

In order to measure special education graduation rate outcomes associated with participation in school intervention and programming, non-parametric tests were used. There was no significant difference found in the median graduation rates for students receiving special education services when considered by their participation in co-/team -taught courses or by the duration of relationship with their case manager. A significant difference in the median graduation rates for these students was found during one of the school year cohort student groups for attendance (2015) and for relevant coursework (2017). These results contribute to a body of knowledge about special education graduation rates by providing suggestions to further clarify and improve an accurate measure of graduation rates for all high schools, including specific plans to use school and post-secondary programming transfers as a studied element. The data is further operationalized by providing a starting point for struggling schools to measure their own data. Recommendations to repeat this study in a school with markedly lower special education graduation rates would provide clearer data and effect sizes for further study.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access