There’s a new high school diploma for Indiana students with significant cognitive impairment

Students with significant cognitive impairments can obtain a new type of degree this year intended to provide them with more opportunities after graduation. The Indiana State Board of Education unanimously approved the alternative degree earlier this month.

Currently, high school students can obtain a Certificate of Completion or Certificate of Attendance if they do not meet the graduation requirements. But advocates for students with disabilities say failure to graduate makes people ineligible for many entry-level jobs, such as fast food and janitorial positions.

“Even jobs that we tend to think of as more entry-level — which we know high school students do — if you’re past high school age and don’t have a degree, you don’t you’re not considered for those jobs because the computer system you’re applying to is eliminating you,” said Karly Sciortino-Poulter, Arc of Indiana’s statewide director of advocacy programs.

States across the country were required to restructure their degree offerings through the federal Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015. Three years later, Indiana lawmakers passed legislation authorizing the State Board of Education to create this alternative degree.

About 76% of Hoosiers receiving special education services will graduate from high school in 2022, up nearly 2 percentage points from the previous year. But statewide, students receiving special education services still had the lowest graduation rate compared to other groups of students.

The state graduation rate was 86.6 percent last year for students who graduated with a general, base 40, academic honors and technical honors degree.

Proponents of supporting students with different abilities believe that implementing the Alternative Leaving Diploma will make graduation more accessible to all students and better support them in their future endeavours.

“This credential not only gives Hoosier students the opportunity to earn a high school diploma, but they will also be able to indicate that they have a high school diploma in future job applications,” said Hannah Carlock. , senior director of public affairs for the Indiana ARC. “It could lead to better paying jobs, career ladder and a brighter future.”

The alternative degree is reserved for students with severe cognitive impairment. These may be students who have one or more types of disabilities under the Federal Disabilities Education Act, such as autism or traumatic brain injury.

A student case conference committee determines if the alternative degree is appropriate for the student.

An eligible student can earn the degree by combining 40 high school credits and coursework where a student completes one unit, Sciortino-Poulter said. A unit is when a student with dementia is in the same class as their peers and exposed to higher-level teaching concepts, but the assignments they complete are at a more accessible level. A Core 40 degree requires students to earn 40 credits.

Students on the alternative degree route are required to earn credits or units in English, social studies, math, science, employability, and other subjects. Students are also required to complete a portfolio that shows their work experience, degrees earned, or work certificates earned in high school.

“It’s important to make sure people with disabilities can have as many opportunities as possible without being limited by any academic challenges they may have had,” Sciortino-Poulter said.

The new degree rule passed by the Indiana State Board of Education must be reviewed and signed off by the attorney general and governor before it officially takes effect. Once signed, students will be able to earn the alternative degree starting this spring.

Contact WFYI education reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at egabriel@wfyi.org.

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