Student Success Systems: Crucial to Improving Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

By Amy Szymanski, Secondary Transition and Workforce Development Consultant with the State Support Team Region 1/Ohio Department of Education and GRAD Partnership Advisory Council member

Around the country, schools and educators are seeking new ways to help more students remain on track for graduation and prepare for success in further education and meaningful careers. However, far too often, students with disabilities are included in these reflections as an afterthought—if at all. In Ohio, where we’ve made students with disabilities a central focus of our Each Child On Track state systemic improvement plan, we see robust student success systems as a key to achieving better outcomes for those students.

Our commitment to this plan has grown from the realization that while our policies have presented opportunities for each student, in practice they have not encouraged students with disabilities to reach their full potential. Ohio has a single-diploma system for high school graduation, yet IEP teams can choose options which may end up providing a less rigorous path to attain that diploma. These diplomas are not recognized at the federal level.

As a consequence, Ohio’s federal graduation rate for students with disabilities is rated at 58.23%, the fifth lowest in the country. And these students’ federal dropout rate of 16.3% places Ohio in the bottom third of states on this metric. More importantly, though, it testifies to the discouragement that far too many young people with disabilities experience when they are not encouraged and supported to maximize their potential and achieve at the highest level they can.

To address this disparity, here in Ohio we’ve adopted the motto “Each child means each child,” and set the goal of seeing at least 70% of our students with disabilities graduate with a regular diploma by the 2025-26 school year. A key strategy to attain that goal is adapting our student success system, the Ohio Early Warning Intervention and Monitoring System (EWIMS), to better identify and address the needs of students with disabilities.

While we’ve begun with the basic thresholds flagging attendance below 90% and any course failures, suspensions, or expulsions, we’re also considering how to incorporate the “new ABC indicators” of agency, belonging, and connectedness. This also means building the capacity of school personnel to implement state policies and evidence-based predictors and practices as they relate to students with disabilities, so as to better support, engage, and empower families as they prepare young people for the transition to further education or a career.

This is a big lift! To turn aspirations into realities, we’ve adopted a staged rollout by cohorts that allows us to fine-tune implementation as we progressively integrate additional districts. Robust collaborations with regional state support teams, educational service centers, institutions of high education, Ohio’s Statewide Family Engagement Center, adult agency providers, and workforce partners offer districts high quality supports to help them meet the needs of school personnel, students, and families. But in the midst of all the high-level planning and implementation, our student support systems are the critical tool that enables educators to remain aware of and responsive to the challenges that individual students face on the pathway to discovering and developing their own individual untapped potential.

To learn more about how student success systems can bolster your students’ wellbeing and learning in these trying times, sign up for updates on tools, resources, and information from the GRAD Partnership here.

To connect with fellow educators working to better understand and deal with the collective grief of current times, look out for upcoming opportunities as part of the GRAD Partnership Community of Practice.

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