Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015 - (Page 15)
State Diploma Requirements Vary
For students with disabilities, states have discretion on graduation policies
n 2011, the U.S. Department
of Education directed
states to use a uniform
method of calculating
high school graduation
rates-a move intended
to introduce true comparability
to an important
measure of school accountability.
But when it comes to students
with disabilities, the uniformity that
policymakers sought disappears.
The Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act permits students in
special education to stay in school
until age 21, even though the uniform
calculation focuses on students
who graduate in four years.
States also have a say in determining
what courses a student with a
disability can take to meet diploma
The implications are broader than
just making it more difficult for researchers
and policymakers to compare
one state to another. Students
with disabilities can potentially
leave school with a "regular" diploma
that includes coursework less
rigorous than the work required of
their typically developing peers.
Most students covered under
the idea do not have a disability
that would indicate a need for lesschallenging
students ages 6-21, 40 percent have
"specific learning disabilities" such
as dyslexia; another 18 percent are
classified with a speech or language
disability, and the 14 percent in the
third biggest category have "other
health impairments." That might
include attention deficit hyperactive
disorder, epilepsy, or diabetes.
These numbers do not include
smaller groups of students who are
blind, deaf or have other disabilities,
but not intellectual impairments.
Experts believe these students may
need supports, but not a less-rigorous
"Why aren't we looking at that
more-why aren't we investing in a
better understanding of the implications?"
asked David R. Johnson, the
director of the Institute on Community
Integration at the University of
Minnesota in Minneapolis, who has
surveyed states on their graduation
requirements for students with disabilities.
"I think there is so much
that we have not unraveled on this
that really needs to be looked at
with a closer eye."
WHAT IS 'STANDARD'?
Graduation rates are now determined
by counting how many 9th
graders in a state leave school with
a standard diploma four years later,
with some wiggle room allowed for
students who transfer into and out
of their 9th grade cohort. The final
calculation is known as the "adjusted
cohort graduation rate."
But what is a standard diploma?
As of 2010-11, the most recent national
research on the topic, more
than half the states-36-allowed
iep teams to have some level of input
into what counts as a high school
completion requirement for students
with disabilities. That number comes
from a survey of states conducted by
Mr. Johnson and Martha L. Thurlow,
the director of the National Center
on Educational Outcomes, also based
at the University of Minnesota.
Graduation requirements change
frequently, and a new survey is underway.
But in the 2010-11 school
year, states reported allowing students
with disabilities to take easier
substitute courses to count for credit,
allowing them to skip end-of-course
tests, or, alternatively, permitting
them to earn a lower score on those
end-of-course tests than their typically
developing peers, but still receive
a passing grade.
States also are able to decide for
themselves the definition of "student
with a disability" for the purpose
of calculating graduation rates.
Some states consider any student
who started high school in special
education to be a student with a disability,
while others may count only
those who ended high school with
A WIDER SPREAD
The influence of those variables is
seen in the range of graduation rates
reported by states. For the 2012-13
school year, among the general student
population, the lowest reported
rate was 62 percent, in the District
of Columbia, and the highest was
90 percent, in Iowa. The percentagepoint
spread between the high and
low rates is 28.
Among students with disabilities
that same school year, however, the
low ranges from 23 percent in Mississippi
to 80 percent in Arkansas-
a 57 percentage-point spread.
"There has been no scrutiny of
what states and districts are doing
regarding graduation requirements
for students with disabilities," said
Candace Cortiella, the founder of the
Marshall, Va.-based Advocacy Institute
and the author of a 2013 report
"Diplomas at Risk." That report
looked at how differing graduation
requirements affected students with
specific learning disabilities.
Some scrutiny may be coming,
however. Melody Musgrove, the director
of the federal office of special
education programs, said that the
Education Department will ask
some states to explain their graduation
In addition to the adjusted cohort
graduation rate, states have long
had to report a "leaver rate" for students
with disabilities to the federal
government. That number is calculated
differently from the adjusted
cohort graduation rate, so federal officials
do not expect an exact match,
but did note some larger-than-expected
"We're working with states to better
understand those, and to better
help states understand what the requirements
mean," she said.
But requiring that iep teams be
dropped from the process of determining
graduation requirements is
not currently under consideration,
said Ruth Ryder, the deputy director
of the special education office.
"Some states have alternate
pathways to a regular diploma
that allow students to demonstrate
what they know and can do related
to the general curriculum. They
would involve the iep team making
that decision," Ms. Ryder said.
"One of the things we've heard is
that some people want us to say
that anything that involves the
iep in earning a regular diploma
is bad, and we don't believe that's
true. There are legitimate alternate
pathways to a regular diploma that
hold students with disabilities to
high standards." s
Coverage of the implementation of
college and career-ready standards
is supported in part by a grant from
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this coverage.
High school exit status by disability (ages 14-21)
According to 2012-13 federal data, nearly 8 in 10
youths with disabilities, ages 14 to 21, completed high
school with either a regular diploma or an alternative
certificate, such as a certificate of attendance.
Students with hearing (88.8 percent) or visual
(88.3 percent) impairments are more likely to finish high
school with a diploma or certificate than their peers
with other types of disabilities. By contrast, students
diagnosed as emotionally disturbed are substantially
less likely to reach that milestone, with only 6 in 10
receiving a high school completion credential.
NOTE: Because of methodological differences in calculations,
data on high school exit status shown here are not comparable
to ACGR graduation rates presented elsewhere in this report.
SOURCE: Education Week Research Center, 2015. Analysis
of data from U.S. Department of Education Office of Special
Education Programs (2012-13)
Traumatic brain injury
Speech or language impairment
Specific learning disability
Other health impairment
DIPLOMAS COUNT 2015 s www.edweek.org/go/dc15
Graduated with regular
high school diploma
Received a certificate
By Christina A. Samuels
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015
Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015
After Special Ed., Path Is Less Certain
DATA OVERVIEW: Students with Disabilities In School and Work
BY THE NUMBERS: Hearing Impairment
Md. Senior Opts For University Geared To Students With Hearing Impairments
In College, Students Face Choice: Seek Help or Go It Alone?
BY THE NUMBERS: Emotional Disturbance
At Lab School, Pennsylvania Student Prepares for Career In Culinary Arts
After K-12, Students Must Be Self-Advocates
BY THE NUMBERS: Specific Learning Disability
On Road to College, Georgia Student Learns To Speak for Herself
For Job-Oriented Students, Work Experience Is Critical
Discipline Policies Push Students Off College-and-Career Path
BY THE NUMBERS: Autism
Budding Politician Sets Sights on College
State Diploma Requirements Vary
Common Core: Will Bar Rise For Students With Disabilities?
BY THE NUMBERS: Intellectual Disability
In Virginia, Jobs Enable Twin Brothers To ‘Walk Taller’ After High School
Graduation Rates Reach New Highs, But Gaps Remain
TABLE: Graduation Rate Tops 80 Percent
Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015