BOX 8-1 High School Graduation
Educating One and All (National Research Council, 1997) reported that, among states with high school exit exams in 1995, five exempted special education students with IEPs from such tests if course requirements were met; this could be done even through alternative special education courses (Thurlow et al., 1995a). Some analysts have suggested that such policies may inflate special education referrals (Allington and McGill-Franzen, 1992) or lead families to move their children to schools in "easy" graduation states (Thurlow et al., 1995a). A related issue is that students with disabilities who do not graduate are entitled to remain in school and receive special education and related services until the age of 21 or 22—a costly proposition. Receiving a diploma, which terminates IDEA services, constitutes a change in placement requiring parental consent, and some parents may prefer that their children continue to receive services rather than graduate.
Another option practiced in some states is to give students a modified diploma or certificate upon successful completion of IEP goals. This alternative is reserved in some places for students with the most profound disabilities. The various practices reflect differing opinions about how best to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Some argue that differentiated diplomas stigmatize students; others feel that giving a standard diploma to these students devalues the credential and corrupts the educational process (DeStefano and Metzer, 1991). Research evidence on these questions is generally missing.
Educating One and All emphasizes that, because a high school diploma is the minimum requirement for many jobs, graduation testing of students with disabilities raises serious concerns. If graduation standards are increased, more students—including those with disabilities—may well be denied diplomas. The 1997 report makes the following recommendations:
If students receive alternative credentials to the standard high school diploma, parents need to understand the different diplomas and the implications of decisions to modify curriculum and assessments for the type of diploma their child will receive.
Before attaching significant stakes to the performance of individual students, those students should be given an opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge expected of them.
The report also calls for research on the effects of different kinds of high school credentials on employment and other post-school outcomes, as well as research to develop meaningful alternative credentials that can credibly convey the nature of a student's accomplishments and capabilities.