What Kind of Diploma is Your Child
Going to Receive?

By Leeanne Seaver

Does your school district provide "differentiated" diplomas at high school graduation? Differentiated diplomas enable school districts to reflect the diversity of their programming and to mark the passage of a diverse group of students. It may not be accurate to say that there are different diplomas, because differentiated diplomas actually reflect the different courses of study that a student can pursue during high school. In Denver Public Schools, for example, there are four courses of study: General, Work Study, IEP, or Combined. The graduate's transcripts indicate their course of study. What kind of diploma your child receives has big implications for their future, especially if college is a goal.

In a district that differentiates diplomas, students don't automatically get a "general" diploma unless they have taken enough core classes (as defined by the district) to earn it. Time in special education classes may not count towards a general course of study. So it's very important for parents and students with IEPs to know what kind of diploma they want at graduation so they can plan accordingly.

Hands & Voices recommends that this question is addressed at the Transition IEP for every 14 year old student. One way to assure a general diploma, if that is a goal, is to project a schedule for all four years of high school that would fulfill the district's requirement for a general course of study. To do so, your team will need to know answers to these questions:

  • Does your district have differentiated diplomas?
  • How does your district define "accommodations" and "modifications" as they relate to the student's course of study? If the student is taking a core class, will they get credit for it if they were using IEP accommodations and/or modifications in the classroom?
  • What core classes will the student need in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade in terms of the scheduled availability of those classes, and the student's special ed class schedule?
  • Is there a limit to the number of hours one can spend in special ed classes and still earn a general coursework diploma?
  • What consideration do colleges give to students who have "Combined" or "IEP" differentiated diplomas?
  • Are core courses taught by a teacher of the deaf in a self-contained setting eligible for general coursework credit?
  • Who will ensure that the decisions made and schedule developed will be implemented (name names!)?

The takeaway here is to understand that parents must remain diligent throughout their child's entire educational experience. In truth, your child's first transition from early intervention into preschool is not too early to ask this question: what would preschool have to look like in order for be my child to be developmentally ready for kindergarten? Then, what would the early elementary years have to do to prepare my child for grade-level appropriate work in 4th, 5th and 6th grade? What grades does my child need in middle school to be advanced placed and/or college-bound in high school? What coursework in high school will best prepare him/her for their goals after graduation? These questions are worth asking, whether your school district gives differentiated diplomas or not. Ask these questions early, and ask them often.


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