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, it’s vital that youth with disabilities and their families have information about diploma options well before high school. Unfortunately, many times this issue is not given adequate consideration in transition planning and/or youth and families may not fully grasp the impact that this decision may have on their future education, earning potential, and employability.
Many states have implemented graduation policies and requirements that increase academic standards and testing, often including a high school exit exam. These strategies are intended to increase the level of student learning and achievement essential to entering future adult roles. In addition, states are 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. In addition, some diploma options and certificates are only available for students receiving special education services. Included among these alternative diploma options are certificates of completion, IEP/special education diplomas, and occupational/vocational diplomas. Alternative diplomas, however, are generally viewed as being based on less rigorous academic standards than standard high school diplomas. Thus, many employers and postsecondary institutions do not view these diplomas as equal to a standard diploma.