Ensuring All Students with Disabilities have a Pathway to a High School Diploma in California
A high school diploma is a passport to future opportunities and should be the goal for all students. Unfortunately, in California, students with disabilities graduate with a high school diploma at the lowest rate of any other student group.
When students receiving special education struggle to meet diploma requirements it is often because they are not receiving the support, services, and accommodations they need. Anytime a student is struggling, the IEP team should consider what additional help the student needs, but sometimes, instead of providing support, academic expectations are lowered and the student is moved to a “certificate of completion” track. This means that they are no longer working toward a diploma. A certificate of completion can create barriers for disabled people who want to attend college or find a job, because it may not be recognized by employers, colleges, or training programs.
Students Can Continue on the Path to a Diploma!
There is a common misunderstanding that if a student does not graduate in four years and needs services after that time, their only alternative is to move to a certificate track where the focus is often on functional living skills. The fact is, that up until they turn 22, students with an IEP can receive services to help them graduate with a regular high school diploma.
California's Alternative Pathways to a High School Diploma Workgroup
To make sure that schools provide the supports and services that disabled students need to graduate with a high school diploma, California created the Alternative Pathways to a High School Diploma Workgroup (Alt Pathways Workgroup) to make recommendations to ensure that students with disabilities can access the regular curriculum and satisfy the requirements for a high school diploma.
One of the most important findings of the Alt Pathways Workgroup is that creating separate graduation pathways for students with disabilities could result in more exclusion of students with disabilities from rigorous high school coursework and limit future opportunities. To their credit the Workgroup made recommendations for training, resources, and support focused on keeping most students with disabilities on a regular high school diploma track and eliminating the certificate of completion.
The Workgroup recognized that there is a very small number of students with cognitive disabilities who may not be able to meet the requirements for a regular high school diploma and recommended an alternative diploma for only these students. These youth make up about 10% of all of the students who receive special education. This new pathway would allow an eligible student to continue receiving special education services but also meet diploma requirements based on an alternative set of standards and a more individualized approach to graduation and a diploma. This would reward these students for working hard and meeting their IEP goals (which must always be meaningfully ambitious and ensure that students are making progress and learning) and ensure equality of opportunity for all students with disabilities.
The California Department of Education will be releasing information and guidance and will be providing training and consultation to schools and families as the certificate of completion is eliminated and the new alternative diploma pathway replaces it for a limited group of students. The Workgroup report and recommendations: Pathways to a High School Diploma - Legislative Report
For more information about how to support students in earning a high school diploma, transition planning, or special education in general, contact your Parent Training and Information Center.
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