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Certificate Program v. Regular Diploma - No Way!
by Susan Bruce

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girl graduate“My child is getting ready for 9th grade. She has an IEP. The school suggested we put her in the certificate program. Is this a good idea?"

This is a subject parents need to consider carefully. It has been my experience that the “alternate diploma” is not worth the paper it is written on. Even community colleges require at least a GED. Most employers require a high school diploma, GED, or ask that a perspective employee work toward one of those.

Don’t settle for an “alternate diploma.” Begin with the highest expectation possible for your child. Don’t lower that expectation until you extinguish every possibility.

What can a parent do?

First, consider what the IDEA says about high expectations in the purposes section.

“Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular education classroom, to the maximum extent possible…” 20 U.S.C.1400 (c)(5)

This should be done in order for a child to-

“meet developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and

be prepared to lead productive and independent lives, to the maximum extent possible.”

Second, consider the following questions.

  • Why does the IEP team feel your child cannot meet course standards in order to receive a regular high school diploma?
  • What supports and accommodations were discussed that would help your child receive a regular high school diploma?
  • What does your child need in order to meet the same expectations as other students?
  • Could your child complete the requirements for the regular diploma by the time he is 21? A student with a disability can receive services until the age of 21 or until he graduates with a regular high school diploma, whichever comes first.
  • Would the “alternate diploma” allow your child, to the maximum extent possible, to lead a productive and independent life?
  • Is the alternate diploma appropriate for your child’s level of functioning?

Third, consider using the transition plan to address the diploma.

Transition Planning

An IEP should include transition services no later than the first IEP in effect when the student turns 16. The age could be younger, depending on your state’s special education regulations.

Transition services are services that step your child up to moving to the adult world.

Transition services should:

  • Be designed with a results oriented process.
  • Focus on improving the academic and functional achievement of your child to “move” your child from school to post school activities.

Post school activities could include any of the following.

  • Postsecondary education (college)
  • Vocational education
  • Integrated employment
  • Continuing adult education (GED, perhaps)
  • Adult services
  • Independent living
  • Community participation

The transition plan should base transition services on your child’s individual needs. The IEP team should consider your child’s preferences, interests, and strengths. What does he want to do?

If your child wants to attend a community college or college, he will need that regular high school diploma!

Transition services should include the following.

  • Instruction (address deficit areas)
  • Related services
  • Community experiences
  • Development of employment and other post school living objectives
  • Acquisition of daily living skills, if appropriate

Transition services in the IEP must include:

  • Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments, related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and
  • The transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.

Transition services can be special education, if your child needs the services provided as specially designed instruction or a related service in order to benefit from special education!

When thinking about transition planning, ask yourself these questions.

  • How does your child’s transition plan address moving her from the school world to the real world?
  • What are your child’s preferences?
  • What are your child’s strengths?
  • What does your child want to do after graduation?
  • What does your child need in order to help her meet those goals?
  • Does your child need remediation in a particular area in order to meet these goals?
  • What assessments tools did the school use?
  • Are the transition goals in the IEP measurable?
  • Where is the data?

IEP teams can develop and use transition plans to help students with disabilities meet the high expectations set for all students. As with every other special education issue, make yourself an expert.

Created: 01/12/11

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Susan Bruce

Susan BruceSusan Bruce is a an education coordinator and parent trainer for South Carolina's Parent Training and Information Center, PRO*Parents of South Carolina, Inc.

In the last 5 years, Susan has trained over 2000 parents and professionals on the IDEA and effective advocacy skills, empowering them to effectively advocate for appropriate services for students with disabilities.

Susan has been published several times by such organizations as Wrightslaw, NICHCY and Education Week. Her articles appear in PTI newsletters all over the country. Susan has also conducted CLE trainings on the IDEA in collaboration with Appleseed Legal Justice Center for attorneys new to special education law.

Advocating for her own three children, who are served under the IDEA for the last ten years has made her a dedicated and passionate advocate for students. Susan has trained under some of the leading experts on special education law.

Susan, an active member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), also serves on the Executive Advisory Board of Learning Disabilities Association of South Carolina and as a parent leader for the National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities (NAEAACLD).

Susan Bruce

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