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Graduation Requirements and Diploma Options for Students with Disabilities: What Families and Advocates Need to Know

Authors: NCSET(National Center on Secondary Education and Transition) Information Brief, Volume 4, Issue 1(2005); National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) Policy Direction, Number 10, Jan. 2000.


This InfoBrief (downloadable) explores the many diploma options that are emerging and the implications for students with disabilities. It is important to make informed decisions about diploma options, understanding the consequences of graduating with different types of diplomas as well as the need for youth, families, and Individual Education Program (IEP) teams to consider these issues early.

This three page brief has a lot of information, click on the "Web Links" tab above to view it online or download it as a PDF. There is also a link to a longer document on which this is based. Below are some interesting excerpts:

Graduation requirements and alternative diploma options must be understood by youth and their families in order to chart a pathway to earning a diploma that will not only be consistent with how the young person envisions their future, but also meaningful to employers and postsecondary educators.

Due to the high dropout rate of students with disabilities and the resulting limited employment opportunities, its vital that youth with disabilities and their families have information about diploma options well before high school.

In response to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act’s mandate of increased accountability, and concerns expressed by the business community that the high school diploma had little or no credibility as an exit credential, states have implemented graduation policies and requirements that call for:

-Increased academic standards for all students
-State, and local district testing
-Development of exit exams linked to a student’s eligibility to receive a high school diploma
-A focus on increasing student graduation rates.

These strategies are intended to increase the level of student learning and achievement essential to entering future adult roles.

States are also experimenting with an array of diploma options ranging from honors diplomas, to the standard diploma, to certificates of completion or attendance, etc. Some states offer special diplomas to students who take rigorous course work, achieve a high grade point average, or post high scores on state exams.

Diploma Option Description –The Infobrief explains the new diploma options that are arising around the United States. Students can opt in to the one that fits best, but employers or colleges may hold some in greater esteem. The bottom four are generally available only to students with disabilities:

-Honors diploma/diploma of high distinction
-Standard diploma
-Certificate of completion/attendance
-Certificate of achievement
-IEP/special education diploma
-Occupational diploma

Some Things to Consider—The Conclusion of the InfoBrief reviews three critical issues for students in selecting a diploma track. Under each issue, there is additional information, research results, etc.

1)The Importance of Education in Today’s World:
In the world today, access to a good job generally requires more training and education than at any other time previously.

2)Setting High Expectations:
One of the best ways families can help youth with disabilities to prepare for their future is to set high expectations and standards, while keeping their individual needs in mind…

3)Start Graduation Planning Early:
Students with disabilities with their families and other members of their IEP team need to begin to plan for graduation early…

Contact Info:
Organization:NCWD/Youth | c/o Institute for Educational Leadership
Address:4455 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 310
Washington,, DC 20008
Phone:877-871-0744 (Toll Free); TTY: 877-871-0665 (Toll Free)

Web Links

View the brief online or download as a PDF

Read a longer article on which the brief is based

This information was found at www.qualitymall.org