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Certificate Instead of a Diploma – Is This OK?

by Wrightslaw

My son is in his senior year and has ADHD. We had an IEP. If he cannot pass the competency test the school will give him a certificate, not a diploma. He will continue to take the tests, but time is running out for him.  Is there anything I can do to help him?

If your son has an IEP, he is eligible for special education until he graduates from high school with a *regular high school diploma* or ages out at age 22.

Do not accept a certificate. A certificate is meaningless and will not help him get a job, get further education or be self sufficient and independent.

You need to write a letter to the school to request an IEP meeting.  In your letter, describe the problem.  Ask the school to provide more intensive services so he has the knowledge and skills needed to pass the competency tests.

Be polite but firm.

The emphasis on effective transition was new in IDEA 2004. Congress made significant changes in the legal definition of “transition services”. Section 1400(c)(14) describes the need to provide “effective transition services to promote successful post-school employment and/or education.”

Has the school provided a good transition plan? What are the goals? What is the school doing to ensure that your child attains these goals?

If a plan is not already in place, you may be able to include competency test preparation as part of the transition plan. This is an important time for your son, and the school should be helping him make the transition from high school to life after school.

You’ll find more transition information, articles, and resources here: Transition, Transition Services, and Transition Planning at

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17 Comments on "Certificate Instead of a Diploma – Is This OK?"


T.B 12/05/2014

Your comments demonstrate the need for parents to be educated on special education rights and responsibilities as well as the students involved. Transition planning begins early and should include goals towards college, vocational, etc. T.B., continue to lobby for yourself and don’t give up. There are many resources via the state that can help you–seek them out. Continue to advocate for your self. You do have life experiences and more to come as you do have choices. State agencies can help you look at vocational choices, assessments, etc. Community colleges have more open doors than you think — advocate for yourself…connect with statewide resources. Don’t give up.


I went to school in Georgia graduated with a special Ed Diploma. It’s useless! Don’t know how you say skip the certificate and go for the diploma when even with the diploma they put special education on it. It’s humiliating for me when I apply for jobs and get ask for me to explain to the interviewer what it this . Then I’ll get told I’ll hear back a call in few days never to hear anything! I feel ashamed of being in special ed just riding the small buses was bad in itself with bus monitors on them. I have no life experiences work experiences I get frustrated and angry. Only place I’ve been able to be accepted for college is through online university. Which I don’t even know since its online and not physical campus if that’s good enough!


In Georgia, students who are receive special education services receive a diploma but it says on it special education diploma…now colleges here are beginning to not accept a diploma if it says special education on it even though the child may have actually passed all required courses and competencies….I have an issue with this because it seems to be discriminatory in nature.

Sharon L.

Mary – WE have the same thing in our schools however modifications can be made on the graduation tests and/or there are exemptions that can be made in certain cases. In our state a certificate does not count as a diploma and a child that gets one cannot qualify for college. I don’t agree with the certificate at all and if a parent is not knowledgable enough they may be lead to believe that the certificate is ok or all that a child can get.


In Kentucky, you recieve only a certificate at graduation instead of a diploma if you are special needs; is this constitutional? When asked why; we are given the answer if they want a diploma, they have to do and pass the classes that the other students take. Our grandson is starting high school; he is very smart in most things but has autism. Can they do this or how can we change the law?