National Survey Explores the School Connectedness of Learning Disabled Students

By Dr. Saashya Rodrigo, Principal Researcher, National Center for Learning Disabilities
March 11, 2024

The GRAD Partnership is a national initiative that partners with communities to implement high-quality student success systems so that schools are equipped to graduate all students and ensure their future success. Led by a coalition of nine national organizations, the GRAD Partnership works directly with schools, districts, and local community organizations to create conditions needed to bring the use of evidence-based student success systems from a new practice to common practice.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) is one of the GRAD Partnership’s nine organizing partners. NCLD is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with learning disabilities and attention issues by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools, and advocating for equal rights and opportunities. NCLD’s mission aligns perfectly with the work of the GRAD Partnership, and this collaboration ensures that the needs of students with disabilities are underscored and addressed.

Research shows that students with disabilities graduate at lower rates than their non-disabled peers. Of the 49.4 million public school students in the United States, 13% receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, U.S. Department of Education, 2022), a law that provides a free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities ages 3-21. 

There are several reasons why students with disabilities drop out of high school; often a combination of factors are at play. One prevalent issue is the lack of student engagement or interest in school. Implementing a student success system that fosters agency, belonging, and connectedness among students and their school communities is an essential step forward in supporting all students, both with and without disabilities.

In an effort to shed more light on this issue, NCLD and WestEd are conducting a national study to explore the experiences of young adults (ages 18-24) with learning disabilities who either dropped out of high school or considered dropping out but went on to graduate. 

The study will begin with a survey of two hundred young adults with learning disabilities, and respondents will have the option to participate in subsequent focus groups. This study will help us evaluate the health of existing systems and examine how these systems relate to student success throughout the K-12 education journey. It will provide valuable practical implications for building and refining a robust and equitable student success system that ensures that all students can learn in an environment and culture that fosters agency, belonging, and connectedness, or the “little a-b-c’s.” By addressing these fundamental aspects of student success, we can ensure that the larger A-B-C’s (Attendance, Behavior, and Course grades) are also addressed, thereby paving the path to holistic student success.

“NCLD’s participation in the GRAD Partnership is of vital importance, and undergirds our efforts to ensure that all students have appropriate pathways for success. This forthcoming study will help inform our efforts as we partner with schools and communities to address the current chronic absenteeism crisis.”

Patricia Balana, Managing Director, the GRAD Partnership

The National Center for Learning Disabilities-GRAD Partnership survey will be launched this month, with focus groups slated to begin in April. 

And be sure to check out the next season of the Designing Education podcast, where I have the opportunity to talk more about this study with Dr. Robert Balfanz from the Everyone Graduates Center. 

For more information about the study or on how young people may participate, please contact Saashya Rodrigo,

More resources about building student success systems for students with learning disabilities can be accessed on the GRAD Partnership’s website:

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