Certificate Instead of a HS Diploma? No Way!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

My son is in his senior year and has ADHD. He has an IEP. If he can’t  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.  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. The 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 as you did to me.  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 services and supports is the school providing to ensure that your child attains these goals?

I suggest that you request that the team include test preparation for the competency test in his IEP.  This is an important time for your son. The school is required to help him make a successful 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 https://www.wrightslaw.com/info/trans.index.htm

  1. I’m 30 years old i ” graduated” in 08 with an IEP certificate. Which at the time didn’t know how meanless that was til now. My mom never kept me informed about my IEP. But thats another story. My question is what do I do now? I mean in ny they don’t even do the GED now its a TASC. Which is very imitating to someone like me. I mean really this is beyond ridiculous.

    • If you have not made contact with the state vocational agency, I would suggest doing that. They should be able to tell you the options for people dealing with your situation. There may be some agencies or groups that could help you in taking that test, if you need to try it. There should be a Disability Rights NY agency that may also be able to help. Hope you can find help.

  2. What happens if a District gives a students credits so they can get a diploma but they they can’t function at grade level, similar to social promotion? (i.e. Student reading, Writing and Math scores when assessed are 2.0 Grade Equivalent). Certainly helps the school’s graduation rate. Can an IEP team put the student on certificate track to maintain services based on the assessment?(CA)

  3. We are in Washington state and my daughter ( has Autism/ social anxiety) who didn’t get to finish her 12th grade year in 2017 due to her anxiety and couldn’t return back to school with 4+month left of 12th grade. In our many daily, weekly, monthly meetings the district didn’t even think about having her participate in her General Education graduation ceremony. So while they denied her IEP documented general education services minutes, they also said because she was in a self contain class room she wasn’t allowed to have a regular diploma. My child is now 21 (come March 2020) and still has no diploma nor can she take a GED test and compared the exam. I’m not sure where others are seeing 22 as age out, because in our state it is 21.

    • Vera, this is another example of where states have some flexibility. Some states base service on age on a specific day. In TX if you are 21 on 9/1 & turn 22 the next day, you still are to be served all year.

  4. My son is half way through his senior year and wants to withdraw from school. While he has passing grades he is on an IEP and is having difficulty passing the MCAS standardized testing in MA. He has anxiety issues and having to take the test causes him severe anxiety, to the point of vomiting.

    I feel the school system has failed my child.

    • Call an IEP meeting and discuss accommodations for the MCAS. He’s come too far to let it go. Be a force and help him to the next level. This is very important.

  5. We are an online long distance learning center in AZ. We have an IEP student who has stated he is dropping out of high school if he is forced, under the new laws, to take algebra. What can we do? Can his parent demand for him to bypass algebra? Can the parent make a pre determination that he cannot pass algebra?
    academic coach

  6. Hello My daughter has Autism and is now 19 and completed High School in 2018. She passed all of her course requirements and worked extremely hard to do so but she received a Certificate of Attendance only due to the fact that she could not pass the Georgia Gateway test which is required in the county that we live in. She took the test 7 or 8 times and although she came close, she was not able to pass it. Of course this was devastating to her because she put in all of the work necessary but her memory issues prevented her from retaining and using the information she studied in a beneficial way. My question now is are there any options available for her to get her High School Diploma? What options would be available since se has left the High School already? Thank you for your time.

  7. I question the statement “Do Not accept a certificate” why? in California if you have a child with disabilities and are in Special Ed. (High School) Graduation from a high school with a regular diploma is a change of placement that ends the High School District’s obligation to provide a “Free Appropriate Public Education” An high school student with 4th-5th grade academic level. Are they going to excel the next three years? I don’t think so. They further need related services designed to meet their needs, prepare them for further education, employment and independent living. The District has programs to fit their needs, but NOT if you graduate them with a Diploma, Yes, a Diploma says it all and yes that would be nice, The High School would love to give all Diploma’s, look good!

    • I agree. I can definitely see the reason why one should fight for the diploma if it’s a reasonable goal, but the standard high school diploma is not always appropriate. The diploma, with little wiggle room, should have a general meaning of accomplishment whoever earns it. If it is deemed reasonable that the student can earn that diploma with appropriate help, yes, fight for that.

      But always consider the individual. If it is deemed that the student cannot do the work, even with accommodations and help, to earn the diploma… so be it. Take the certificate, pursue the individual’s needs.

  8. A certificate is basically a reciept that the school got paid to watch your kid for 4 years.

    I’m sure the scores for these kids don’t even reflect as a negative on the school. So they push these kids along…and they don’t ruin their great school scores.

    The trasition stuff is basically getting them ready for a job….not a career. So these poor kids will never trully make it …..but they will buy stuff to help the economy.

    They wont be able to afford health care, cost of living, propper living conditions….so they are going to be the people that everyone complains about.
    And the schools are blame free.

    • You’re pretty one-sided. Are you a teacher? Do you work in the school system? There are a lot of teachers who put in a lot of work to ensure that all their students are learning. Since a student with an IEP needs specialized instructions and modifications to curriculum based on their academic, emotional, and behavioral needs to be successful, their INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM may need to consider a modified track to post secondary goals. Sometimes, a high school diploma is not appropriate for the student, but this is all developed and determined at an IEP meeting. A certificate may not mean anything to you, but to the students who put in the work, they are so proud of their accomplishment!

  9. I got a certificate and it is worthless.Having a certificate is as bad as being a High school drop out.I left High school reading at 3rd grade level and I was bullied and had no friends or dates.Even the teachers bullied me.

  10. My son is a freshman in high school and getting ready to start 10th grade next year. He is not clearing one of the courses and so the school team is trying to push us into OCS while discussing for the next year in the IEP meeting. We are in NC and although OCS will get regular diploma, it is not college bound. He will have to take remedial courses and I am not sure how that may work out for him with college goals in mind. Also he is already 17 and the school is trying to play the “time is running out for him” game.
    So my questions are:
    How can I make sure he gets what he needs in the regular course of study given that they will not allow for modifications in the regular track?
    If I do choose to have him go into OCS, how is that going to impact him with his college dreams?

  11. Hi,I am 24 years old.I was homeschool then went prviate school at 15 to 16 years old then public school for few months then left 16 to 18 I was homeschool.At age of 19 years old went school helps you graduted even if you are older,I was there from 19 to 21 left and went back 23 and now 24 years old,School finally is allow me graduted this year I have passes of my classes never fail none of them.School throw away my old IEPS in begning of years I start this school I found out this year.They told me I will getting a A Certificate of Completion in May of 2018 because I was in special ed due my disabily.Can a school do this to me even though I age out of it? What else can I do? Can a school throw IEPS away?I am from New Mexico.
    Thank you

  12. My son is a freshman this year he has ADHD he also has an IEP they are saying because of the diploma track that he is not allowed to use his accommodations on his IP that states when he is struggling he has to do half the work and get full credit.

    • Kelly,

      Whoever told you that is stunningly misinformed. Your son has an IEP with his accommodations, modifications, and goals. The school is to follow that weather they want to or not. I would start by requesting an IEP meeting immediately to get to the bottom of what is going on. I would also file a complaint with your state education agency and get them involved. Your son is entitled to a FAPE Free Appropriate Public Education. Remember you are your child’s advocate and you must fight for him. I hope this helps you and I wish you the best of luck

      • An IEP must be followed you are correct Marcus. However, accommodations are allowed but no modifications are allowed for a student on a diploma track.

        • B. Fox

          I thank you for that correction. Would you happen to know why modifications are not allowed for a student on a diploma track?

          • Marcus, That is a decision made by the state legislature or education agency, so it varies from state to state.

          • The OP said he can do half the work and receive full credit. That does not sound like a modification to me.

  13. I, as well as my mother, were never informed. I now, advanced in years do
    not even have a high school diploma!

  14. Can someone with a Certificate of Completion from California be eligible for Title IV funding (Financial Aid)?

  15. Thanks. I will set up an IEP meeting. He is definitely not getting the “attention” or “assistance” he needs.

  16. My son will be senior this year and has a diagnosis of autistic disorder. We have a letter from his neurologist stating he doesn’t expect him to reach full adult living. The school said he won’t graduate unless he can pass algebra and geometry since they are required in the state of Florida. He will never use either of those in his future. What can be done to achieve graduation and a diploma with just Liberal Arts Math (basic math classes)?

    • Hi, Chuck, your question seems unclear. There is a Certificate of Completion that is available to students on an IEP. There is no difference between a diploma a student on an IEP receives and a mainstream student’s diploma. Basically, the criteria are that the parents choose to forego the diploma in order to receive special education services until the age of 22 often in the form of Adult Transition Programs geared toward functional skills.
      That might not be your answer, sorry!

      • B.Fox, Each state legislature, & education agency set the graduation criteria for that state. So there is a lot of variation between states. TX for example does not have a Certificate of Completion. All students receive the same diploma. Their transcript reflects the courses they took.

  17. The thread is quite old but relevant. We are from Massachusetts. My child is placed in a private school (out of district placement) and graduated today. He DID meet the state Competency Determination (Passed the state test — MCAS) with an EPP.

    For those from outside Mass, an EPP is a plan which is required to be completed if the student scores above Warning Ranges but below Proficient range. In last 2 years, the school never said he is not per EPP or there is any issue. To my surprise, today he was awarded a Certificate of Completion! I have sent a mail to school but will need to wait till Monday to know what they say.

    Meanwhile, if they do not issue a diploma, what steps can I take? My feeling is I can take the school to court for fraud and negligence.

    • Chak, the IDEA requires the school to provide a free appropriate education until your son graduates with a *regular high school diploma* or ages out. A Certificate of Completion is NOT a regular high school diploma:

      “the term regular high school diploma does not include an alternative degree that is not fully aligned with the State’s academic standards, such as a certificate or a general educational development credential (GED). (34 CFR §300.102), Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, page 204.

      When you meet with school staff, bring a copy of the law book if you have it. Makes a good impression.

      If you don’t get a satisfactory response, I suggest you consult with an attorney who represents kids re: special ed issues for help in dealing with this problem. A consult is generally inexpensive and should give you a plan.

  18. The school in Ga that my child attends has promised me from the beginning that he/she will get a regular diploma. Today some lady with a child that has an IEP told me that they told her, her son would get a certificate not a diploma. She/He graduates in May how can i make sure the school is being honest ? She/He was in the IEP for ADHD I am afraid if she/he finds out she/he will be devastated.

  19. We are in California ,My son is also in the 12 grade was told the same thing that he can get a certificate of completion, and go to college to get something equal to a diploma ,I’m not for this and my son isn’t either. To me it’s like leaving school and dropping out. Shame on them . Kid’s with IEP shouldn’t be treated this way, It’s discrimination if you ask me !!! We are gonna fight this till the end with some satisfaction.

  20. My question is as a parent of a son who is 17 years old going into the 12th grade do I have the right to request that he earns high school diploma and graduate with his class 2017 instead of the certificate the focus at the high school seems to mainly be on life skills and job skills so I’m very confused on the direction they are going my son is very high-functioning and I don’t feel that they’re challenging him in areas that are more important also they still have him in a special ed classroom and not modifying his setting so that he can be in a generalized classroom as much as possible

    • Yes, you have the right to request an IEP to talk about transition planning. You need to tell the school district that you want your son to earn a diploma not a certificate. The school district has to give your son special education services to help him earn a diploma or until he is age 22. They should have discussed a transition plan when he turned 16.

  21. We are in Northern CA. Our son has ID + ASD. We aren’t sure he is cognitively able to complete the requirements for a high school diploma due to his severe cognitive delay. What options are there for him? He is currently a freshman on the certificate tract. He wants to go to college and become a teacher. We want to encourage his career goals, but are truly unsure as to what options are available to him.

    • If your son wants to go to college and become a teacher, make sure he is diploma track, not certificate track. Request an IEP to talk to about your concerns. The school district needs to have an inclusion specialist work with the general education teachers to modify the curriculum to help your son make progress to meet the graduation requirements to receive a high school diploma.

  22. I have a diploma track, but not only am I autistic, I have Learning Disability, Visual Impairment, Bipolar Disorder (why I get extended time), and Spina Bifida (I had Adaptive Gym in middle school).
    I am of normal cognition. I will get a diploma in 2017. I have a mild case of Spina Bifida and mine isn’t bad enough for medication.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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?


    • Home school and get the same diploma. He will have no pressure of being around kids who do not respect him. Ask for more time for his assignments in his IEP to keep up with the demand of the regular curriculum. But more than that encourage him by letting him know you believe in him.

  29. 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!

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. Galen: Excellent suggestions – thank you.

    To parents and teachers: to avoid unexpected and/or unpleasant surprises, begin planning for your child’s / student’s transition early. Because this boy is a senior, he is likely to be demoralized and is at high risk for dropping out without a diploma or anything else. The purpose of IDEA is to prepare children with disabilities “for further education, employment, and independent living.” This statement needs to be your mission statement.

  36. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Please help us defeat spam. Thank you. *