Opinion
Special Education Letter to the Editor

Less Rigorous ‘False’ Diplomas Hurt Students With Disabilities

July 19, 2016 1 min read

To the Editor:

In his Commentary “Making Sense of High School Graduation Rates,” John Gomperts, the chief executive officer of America’s Promise Alliance, correctly points out that “giving false diplomas or passing students who aren’t ready helps no one.” Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening to students with disabilities in most states.

Several recent reports have established the fact that students with disabilities—i.e., those eligible for special education services and supports—are routinely awarded a regular high school diploma by satisfying graduation requirements that are both substantially different and less rigorous than those for their peers without disabilities. A special education designation appears to be a license for schools, districts, and states to expect far less of these students, despite no evidence that they are incapable of meeting the same standards.

Consider this: While the four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate for students with disabilities in the 2013-14 school year was reported to be 63 percent, the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics and reading in 12th grade found only 8 percent of public school special education students reached the “proficient” level in reading, and only 3 percent reached that level in math.

This disparity strongly suggests that many students with disabilities are being given diplomas that really have no meaning with regard to how prepared they are to go forward in life, whether in higher education or a career. As states look to increase graduation rates for groups of students lagging significantly behind America’s Promise Alliance’s GradNation goal of a 90 percent high school graduation rate—which includes those students with disabilities—let’s hope states will also begin to report as graduates only those students earning a “regular” high school diploma. That is, the standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in the state.

Candace Cortiella

Director

The Advocacy Institute

Marshall, Va.

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A version of this article appeared in the July 20, 2016 edition of Education Week as Less Rigorous ‘False’ Diplomas Hurt Students With Disabilities

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