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


I am now 22 years old but when i was in high school I was in the O.C.S program. When i was seventeen i dropped out do to that fact that the certificate they give you at the end of the year. before i dropped out i was re-tested and found out that i could join the core study’s but i would have to restart high school. but because of O.C.S i have to say it has made my life harder. i am now living in upstate NY and not having a diploma has made it very hard not to land a job.


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.


That is unfair. I have a LD myself.I got a certificate instead of a Diploma and it has furthered handicap me from moving ahead in life,I was turned down for a job at age 28 for lack of a Diploma or GED even though I had previous work experience and a good letter of recommendation from a previous employer,That when I went back and got my GED and I don’t see how I did it with all the failure I had in school.

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?



Go for the Diploma.


I was recently informed of a new law in Michigan that states: Starting the school year of 2010-2011, any student who has an aide and/or resource room with not be eligible for a high school diploma, rather a certificate. I am hoping to gain so insight into this as I have a son going into 3rd grade with ASD and am set on him receiving his diploma – albeit years down the road. Any info would be helpful. Thanks in advance!


I have had a due process filed against me because a student who is on certificate track and has met all of the prerequiste classes wants to remain in the non-public school for an additional year to become metro trained. He is is 19 years old. The attorney states that he can remain in the private placement until he is 22 years of age, and legally he can. I advised the MDT that he has met the four year program requirements, and will not be introducedd to new information/curriculum, My interpretation of the allowance of remaining in shcool until the age of 22 years old, was to give the student sufficient time to complete the program requirements. He has been selected for Project Search, a supported eimployment position where he rotates to myriad jobs for experience. Please advise if I was wrong.

Sharon L.

Sherry, It does not sound ok to me. Not knowing your situation and if your child is on an IEP or not, the law clearly states that each child is supposed to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). When my son was in 3rd grade he was put in a class that was below his skill base and the teacher had it in her mind that all the students would go to trade school ,etc giving the impression that none were good enough for anything else. She taught skills like washing hands, etc . We moved our son to another elementary school in the same district and got the school to pay for transportation via the IEP and he thrived at the new school.


Ny son is in third grade. The teachers want to move him to a special class where he will only get a certificate when he graduates. I am against this. He is only in the third grade who knows how he will grow later down the line. Who knows if the laws will be the same. I am so confused. I want to do the best thing for him. He is struggling really bad in the regular class. I want him to be around all kinds of people, not just one type.


My daughter is in an Occupational Course Study program in her highschool. She has to do an additional year due to being in Autistic curriculum her first year in the high school. What will she be able to do in the real world once high school is over? Her autism leads her to have a strong desire for the arts/graphic area.


My child attends a private school at the public school’s expense due to ongoing denial of a FAPE. This is done through a third party.

My child’s only IEP goal is that a public school guidance counselor assist with post graduation planning and inform us of scholarship opportunities offered to public school students that the private school may not be aware of.

When we questioned why these services are not being provided, their attorney informed us that “It the responsibility of the private school to provide services on the IEP”.

The attorney for the school that opted not to comply with IDEA/ADA laws, offered to “Address the private school not providing services” that are documented in the IEP as the being delivered by the public school.

Minutes from the IEP meeting specify the public school counselor by name.


The link to transition services is broken…anxiously awaiting your advice. Thanks.


As a special education teacher, I would suggest that you be ready to discuss specific interventions as well. The teachers and the school will have the interventions that they are familiar with, and will, hopefully, suggest these for the best possible reasons. If you are informed about what interventions are proven to work for children in similar circumstances (age, intervention history, etc.), you can help the whole team have a more meaningful discussion about what the next steps should be.

Be sure that everyone at the meeting knows that a certificate is unacceptable. Then outline *exactly* what skills need to be mastered for your son to get a diploma, *exactly* how these skills will be assessed and *exactly* what the plan will be, across settings, to ensure that your son masters these skills in a time-frame he can live with.