New High School Diploma Requires Work-Related Experience

Schools in a New York District are changing their diploma requirements for students with disabilities.  The change is controversial amongst different stakeholders, according to the Ithaca Times, January 25, 2014.

Along with the well-publicized changes in education brought by the Common Core and the new Annual Professional Performance Reviews for teachers, comes a less-famous change in the diplomas for students with disabilities. As of last July, students with disabilities no longer graduate with an IEP diploma, which used to be the standard for Individual Education Plans. A greater proportion of students will be expected to graduate with a Regents diploma, but students of different abilities will have a more career-oriented option. “Now we have a local diploma and a Regents diploma,” said director of Special Education at Lansing schools, Kathy Rourke. “The IEP meant that they reached their individual educational goals, but it was lacking a work-related piece.”

“We’re now focusing more on students leaving our schools work-ready,” said Rourke. Lansing’s special education department offers services from kindergarten to 12th grade, including speech and occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling and academic support. Rourke said that the new diplomas at Lansing quantify Career Development And Occupational Skills (CDOS) credentials.

According to the NYS Education Department, “Most students with disabilities will be able to graduate with the NYS CDOS Commencement Credential as a supplement to their regular diploma (Regents or local diploma). Students who are unable to earn a regular diploma because of their disability may graduate with the NYS CDOS Commencement Credential as the student’s only exiting credential, provided they meet the requirements … and have attended school for at least 12 years, excluding kindergarten. If the NYS CDOS Commencement Credential is the student’s only exiting credential and he/she is less than 21 years of age, the parent must be provided prior written notice indicating that the student continues to be eligible for a free appropriate public education until the end of the school year in which he/she turns age 21.”

In order to prepare students for being work ready, Rourke said she had met with representatives of Challenge Industries/Challenge Workforce Solutions several times, and “that’s been kind of exciting.”

“We are looking at opportunities for students to have internships with businesses in the community,” said Rourke. “The new diploma requires over 200 hours of work-related experiences.”

State education is offering a Regents Certificate of Work Readiness, to replace the IEP, but at least one advocacy group for students with disabilities strongly opposes the certificate on the grounds that, if it’s only for students with disabilities, it will stigmatize them and force them to disclose their disability to a potential employer. The Learning Disabled Association of NY, in a position paper requesting that the state education department hold off on new CWR (Career and Work Readiness) certificates, objects to the use of the word “Regents” in the title, among other things:

“To most persons in the field, the term “Regents” is associated with the standardized NYS high school exams required for a Regent’s Diploma. Calling the work-readiness certificate a Regents Certificate will blur the distinction between this credential and a diploma, much the way the word “diploma” blurred the distinction between the IEP Diploma and the legitimate high school diplomas.”

Read the rest of the article here.

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