Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Graduation Options in New York

We continue to speak with parents of public high school students who are concerned and confused about the diploma options available in New York for their students, especially those with with learning and other challenges.

For many years, students in New York had the option to graduate with a high school diploma without taking Regents exams, the New York Statewide tests that were first administered in 1878.  At least until the era of Advanced Placement exams, Regents examinations were considered the "gold standard" for New York State students, but all students had another path to a diploma available to them if they could not pass a sufficient number or Regents exams. This was the "local diploma."

Local diplomas, which are actual graduation credentials and recognized by such by colleges, the military, and employers, were available for a number of years to students who could not achieve a passing score on sufficient Regents exams, but who could pass a less difficult Regents Competency Exam. However, as we wrote back in 2011, Regents Competency exams were being phased out and, at this point, are no longer available to most students. Local diplomas are no longer an option for students in public schools who do not have an IEP or 504 Plan and cannot pass the required Regents exams. 

So, what can students with or without IEPs do if they are struggling to pass Regents exams?

  • There is an appeal option, available to all students who score 62 or higher on their Regents exam. As explained in an excellent fact sheet from Advocates for Children of New York: "Students who successfully appeal one Regents Exam and meet all other testing and course requirements will be awarded a Regents Diploma. Students who successfully appeal two Regents Exams will be awarded a Local Diploma. Students cannot appeal more than two exams." Note that a student will still have to have an IEP or 504 Plan to be eligible for a Local Diploma (and students with Section 504 plans must have plans that specify that they are eligible for the Local Diploma).
  • Students with IEPs or 504 plans who score between 55-64 on required Regents examinations can receive a local diploma. This option is not available to general education students. The rules are complicated and we suggest you review the advisory from the New York State Department of Education on this "safety net" option. Note that there are also special graduation options available to English Language Learners.

For students with disabilities who had an IEP, there had been another option, but its name was misleading to all concerned. Called an "IEP diploma" it was not a true graduation credential and not an actual diploma. Instead, all it signified was that the student had met the goals of his or her IEP. It was not accepted by colleges, the military, or many employers who required a high school diploma. This option has been replaced by two others, the  Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential (SACC) and the Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential. The SACC is for students with significant disabilities who take alternative assessments. The CDOS is designed to indicate readiness for work, and can be awarded on its own or in conjunction with a Regents or local diploma.

As you can see from the information and links above, this is a complicated subject. The best resource for all families is the high school counselor, among whose responsibilities is making sure that all students are on track to graduate with the highest level credential they are able to achieve. If you are not fully comfortable with where your student is in the path to graduation and what kind of diploma they are entitled to receive -- and are going to receive -- you need to meet with your student's guidance counselor without delay.

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