An increasing number of students with disabilities across the nation are graduating high school, according to new federal figures, but the odds of receiving a diploma vary considerably by state.

The high school graduation rate for those with disabilities rose to 68.2% for the 2018–2019 school year. That’s up from 67.1% the year prior.

The data comes from a report issued recently by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics and reflects the number of students who graduated within four years with a regular high school diploma.

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Despite the progress, students with disabilities continue to lag far behind their peers, the report shows, with the national graduation rate for all students growing to 85.8%.

And, there is significant variance by state. At the high end, the graduation rate for students with disabilities was 82.6% in Arkansas, while bottom-ranked Mississippi saw just 42.2% of these students receive a diploma.

Education Department officials note that differences in how rates are calculated may contribute to the disparities.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on special education services, some families are pushing to win an extra year of school eligibility for students with disabilities who were set to age out this spring. There is a bill currently under consideration in the New Jersey legislature to extend eligibility. Meanwhile, the New York State Education Department is asking schools and school districts in that state to offer students with disabilities who are aging out the opportunity to attend summer school and continue their education through the next school year, as needed, to earn their diploma or other credential.

“Giving these young adults that have worked so hard for so long the opportunity to complete their schooling and transition to the next step in their lives will benefit them, their families, and the communities in which they live and work — this is what they deserve and again we urge you to offer them this opportunity,” wrote John L. D’Agati from the New York State Education Department in a memo last week to school leaders.

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