Meeting of the Board of Regents | May 2009
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Rebecca H. Cort
Individualized Education Program (IEP) Diplomas for Students with Disabilities
May 5, 2009
Goals 1 & 2
Issue for Discussion and Policy Recommendation
State policy regarding the high school individualized education program (IEP) diploma for students with disabilities.
Reason for Consideration
At its July 2008 meeting, the VESID Committee of the Board of Regents discussed concerns raised by parents, student advocacy organizations, and members of the Commissioner’s Advisory Panel (CAP) for Special Education Services and others relating to the IEP diploma. The major issues regarding the IEP diploma discussed at the July 2008 Regents meeting included the following:
- More than the expected percentage of students with disabilities exit school with an IEP diploma.
- Regional variations exist in the percentage of students awarded an IEP diploma.
- A decision to award an IEP diploma is often made earlier than necessary in the student’s educational career and results in lowered expectations for that student.
- Students, parents and educators are often not aware that an IEP diploma is not considered a regular high school diploma.
- Receiving an IEP diploma often limits post-secondary opportunities.
The Committee directed VESID to seek public comment on policy considerations regarding the IEP diploma. In addition to obtaining written comment, VESID staff conducted several public discussions, facilitated conversations with specific constituency groups and arranged for a regional meeting of the VESID Committee of the Board of Regents on this topic. Information regarding those public discussions and a summary of that public comment is summarized in Attachment A.
Based on the extensive public comment received to date on this issue, it is recommended that the Department continue to consider policy changes regarding the IEP diploma. There was broad support for the Department to develop an alternative exiting credential to the IEP diploma that specifically documents a student’s academic and career skills for the small percentage of students who may not be able to earn a Regents or local diploma. Additionally, it was clear in the public comment that there is a need for parents, students, and educators to have a better understanding of the current requirements regarding an IEP diploma and its potential limitation on post-secondary opportunities. Many also acknowledged that while the Department offers the sample Career and Technical Education (CTE) Skills Achievement Profile to document student attainment of career and technical knowledge and skills, few were using this optional tool.
The following policy questions are presented for the Committee to consider.
- Should the Department pursue the development of an alternative credential(s) to document the skills of students taking the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA) and/or those whose disability precludes them from earning a regular high school diploma to replace the current IEP diploma? If so,
- What should be the criteria for eligibility for this credential?
- On what standards would the award of this credential be based (e.g., completion of specific coursework, skills attainment assessments, and/or community based work experiences)?
- How would a student's attainment of various levels of academic and Career Development and Occupations Studies (CDOS) Standards be documented (e.g., "Basic" "Intermediate" "Advanced")?
- Should this alternate credential be referred to as a "diploma?"
- Should the Department issue guidance and informational material on the current regulatory requirements for the IEP diploma, including but not limited to:
- how the IEP diploma differs from a regular high school diploma;
- potential limitations on post-secondary opportunities;
- the responsibility of committees on special education (CSEs) to ensure that all students with disabilities are provided with appropriate special education supports to access and participate in the general education curriculum and assessments; and
- guidance on how and when to make the decision to pursue an IEP diploma?
- Should the Department reaffirm or strengthen its 2004 policy to further encourage the use of the CTE Skills Achievement Profile? The Profile is a tool for documenting the career and technical skills proficiency level acquired by students with disabilities receiving an IEP diploma. The Profile was developed by the Department to provide districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services with a model for documenting the career and technical knowledge and skills achieved by students including documentation of:
- Universal Foundation CDOS Skills;
- Career Majors at the Core, Specialized and Experiential levels;
- successful completion and attainment of industry-related assessments and certifications; and
- records of attendance (e.g., school, work-based learning experiences).
Timetable for Implementation
Further policy discussions regarding the IEP diploma are tentatively scheduled for the November 2009 Regents meeting.
Public Policy Discussions on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Diploma
In July 2008, the VESID Committee of the Board of Regents directed VESID to seek public comment on the IEP diploma. The following actions were completed.
A field memorandum, titled Individualized Education Program Diploma – Announcement of Public Policy Discussion Groups, was issued to provide background information on the IEP diploma, announce the public discussion sessions, and invite written comment.
During January and February 2009, public policy discussion sessions were held in New York City, Rochester, Albany, and on Long Island. Participants at these sessions included parents, students, teachers, school administrators, attorneys, and representatives from a variety of advocacy groups, teacher unions, private organizations, and institutes of higher education. Each session was structured for small group discussion and focused on a series of guided questions. Approximately 245 individuals participated in the discussions and an additional 45 written comments were received.
Three discussions to elicit policy recommendations on the IEP diploma were conducted with the Commissioner's Advisory Panel for Special Education Services. Special Education Policy staff participated in conference calls with the Family School Collaboration Learning Community on this topic.
A Regional Meeting of the VESID Committee of the Board of Regents was held in Yonkers on April 29, 2009. Twelve individuals, including parents, teachers and administrators as well as representatives from teacher unions, institutions of higher education and agencies engaged in workforce development were invited to participate in a discussion with members of the Board of Regents. The discussion focused on four questions that evolved from an analysis of the recurring themes presented at the public sessions and offered through written comments. Specifically, the participants discussed the possible creation of an “alternative credential” to replace the IEP diploma for students with disabilities recognizing that at another time, the discussion may broaden to include all students.
Summary of Public Comment
Public comments were obtained in response to a series of guided questions developed around major policy issues with the IEP diploma. These comments, provided in writing as well as during the public discussion sessions and the regional Board of Regents meeting, were analyzed for recurrent themes and are summarized below.
Issue 1: The number and variability of students with disabilities exiting school with an IEP diploma
- The majority of individuals providing comment indicated that the nearly 15 percent of students with disabilities statewide receiving an IEP diploma was far too many.
- Most agreed that the IEP diploma should be limited to those students with the most significant disabilities and favored the formal recognition of the achievements of these students yet were very hesitant to limit the use of the IEP diploma to the eight percent of students with disabilities who take the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA).
- Some stated that decisions regarding diploma options for each student are based on that student’s individual needs and indicated that policies should remain flexible as students other than those taking NYSAA may be appropriate candidates for the IEP diploma or alternative credential.
- Others, advocating for more stringent requirements, expressed concern with the range of students awarded an IEP diploma, noting that in addition to those students with significant cognitive disabilities, the IEP diploma continues to be issued as a “default” credential for students who have insufficient credits to earn a regular high school diploma.
- Most agreed that if a student’s IEP were designed and implemented as it should be to support effective instruction, fewer students would graduate with an IEP diploma.
- Rather than limit the IEP diploma to students taking NYSAA, most individuals advocated for the establishment of clear cut criteria with respect to who should receive an IEP diploma.
- Educators and parents alike indicated they would benefit from additional guidance, including factors to consider when making such decisions. Establishment of such criteria would not only ensure more appropriate outcomes for students with disabilities, but would also serve to limit the regional variations in the number of students who are awarded IEP diplomas.
- With the use of the IEP diploma limited to four percent of students with disabilities in some regions as compared to 24 percent in others, it was suggested that we call upon those districts limiting its use to students with severe disabilities to assist in developing such statewide criteria.
Issue 2: Misunderstanding regarding what an IEP diploma represents
- A number of individuals indicated that parents, students, teachers and administrators in their districts were often unaware that the IEP diploma is not a regular high school diploma.
- Several parents shared personal stories of their children attempting to enroll in college or obtain employment only to be denied and learn that an IEP diploma limits post-secondary opportunities.
- Many attributed this to a lack of information about the IEP diploma and suggested that a variety of materials and trainings be developed to educate parents, students and school personnel making these decisions.
- Others took it a step further and suggested mandating such discussions.
- There was strong support that the information regarding the IEP diploma option be shared with parents early in a student’s schooling, but the decision to follow that path should be reserved until later in the student's academic career.
- A significant number of individuals indicated that the distinction between a regular high school diploma and an IEP diploma is obscured by the credential’s very name, creating much confusion for parents and school staff.
- The majority of individuals providing comment supported a change to the title of the IEP diploma, feeling it is misleading to call it a diploma given it’s limitation on post-secondary opportunities. Those in support of changing the name also indicated that the reference to the student’s IEP in its title may be seen as a transcript identification of a student as a student with a disability. Alternative names for the current IEP diploma included such terms as Certificate of Attendance, Certificate of Achievement and Exit Credential.
- In contrast, some individuals were clearly opposed to altering the title of the IEP diploma. They contended that designating the document as a diploma imbued it with greater status and value. In addition, some felt that the current designation of diploma might act as an incentive for students with disabilities to remain in school longer.
- Regardless of whether the name of the diploma is changed, nearly all stakeholders stressed the need for parents to understand the possible ramifications of such a credential on their child’s post-secondary opportunities.
Issue 3: Establishment of an Alternative Credential
- Parents, school administrators and representatives from a variety of disability advocacy groups strongly supported offering different pathways to graduation. While they acknowledged that a Regents or local diploma may be appropriate for many students, they indicated that there are a number of students who would benefit from the establishment of an additional exiting credential.
- Many advocated for a credential that has “quality, status, and value,” and that specifically documents a student’s academic and career skills. To be awarded such a credential, they emphasized that these students should be provided a modified curriculum that infuses New York State (NYS) academic and Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Learning Standards.
- There was strong support for increased provision of course credit for vocational experiences including service learning, internships and demonstrated mastery of specific skill sets. Administrators from rural communities, however, were quick to point out the challenges associated with requiring students to engage in work experiences as a prerequisite for graduation when few businesses exist in a region.
- Many suggested that the IEP diploma be eliminated in favor of the establishment of an alternative curriculum accompanied by a credential that documents specifics skills and is recognized by employers. They acknowledged that while the IEP diploma was once effective when access to education for students with disabilities was an issue, an alternative credential is especially important now with the increased focus on student post school outcomes.
- Most individuals supported the establishment of an alternative credential for all students, including general education students, indicating that students at risk would be less likely to drop-out of school and would be better prepared for post school employment.
- Others, particularly those who advocated for the development of the original IEP diploma in the 1980’s, felt very strongly that the IEP diploma continues to be an important milestone and should not be eliminated.
District personnel acknowledged that although NYS offers tools such as the sample Career and Technical Education (CTE) Skills Achievement Profile and the Career Plan to document student career exploration and attainment of skills, few were using these optional tools. The CTE Skills Achievement Profile, which is specifically designed to document career and technical knowledge and skills for students working towards an IEP diploma, requires that school districts develop their own profiles in specific career areas. Many indicated that the staff time and financial resources necessary to develop the tool was a significant barrier to its use and advocated for the State standardization of the tool. They also indicated that the development of a statewide credential required the collaboration of many partners including parents, students, educators, policymakers, employers and others engaged in workforce development. Educators indicated that they continue to struggle with integrating academic and career standards and would require significant support and technical assistance to implement an alternative credential. It was suggested that the role of the consultant teacher be expanded to support its implementation.
While not specifically the intent of this public comment, throughout the course of the discussions, many strongly advocated for the continuation of some form of the Safety Net for students with disabilities. Many noted that with the last group of students eligible for the Graduation Safety Net being those entering 9th grade in September 2009, there is the potential for an increase in both the number of students likely to either drop-out of school or receive an IEP diploma.