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Diplomas and Credentials Available to Students with Disabilities and their Impact on Eligibility for Higher Education and Other Opportunities

March 19th, 2014

By Marion Walsh, Esq., & Sandi Rosenbaum

Several different diplomas and credentials are awarded to students with disabilities who complete high school in New York State. Students and their parents need to be aware of the differences between these diplomas and credentials, and how they can affect one’s ability to pursue higher learning and other opportunities.

Regents Diploma:

In New York State, a standard high school diploma is called a Regents Diploma. This is the only diploma available to students without disabilities and is earned by most students with disabilities as well. Students must complete the required high school credits and pass 5 required Regents exams with a score of 65 or higher. A Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation is awarded to students who score 65 or higher on 8 or 9 Regents exams and is desired by many competitive colleges and universities.

Local Diploma:

To minimize the impact of high-stakes testing on students with disabilities, New York State requires districts to offer a local diploma to students with an individualized education program or section 504 Accommodation Plan under the so-called “Safety Net” provisions. Students may earn a local diploma if they score 55 or higher on the 5 required Regents exams. (They still need to earn all the credits required to graduate.) Further, even a grade of 45 on one or two Regents exams (other than English or math) can qualify a student for a local diploma if the student scores 65 or higher on other Regents exams under the so-called “compensatory option”.

Although the Regents diploma is preferred by college admissions departments, community colleges and some other institutions accept students with a local diploma. The local diploma is also accepted by the armed forces, trade unions, and for all similar opportunities for which a high school diploma is required.

Even with the safety net options, some students will not be capable of earning a local diploma. Two other types of credentials are awarded to students with disabilities. These credentials are not high school diplomas and thus do not create eligibility for traditional higher education degree programs. However, alternative programs such as Think College do offer opportunities for students who are not eligible for degree programs to participate in campus and academic life.

Career Development & Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential:

Some students with disabilities may receive a Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential. This credential signifies substantial high school level Career and Technical Education and was designed as a supplement to a Regents or local diploma. However, students with disabilities who complete its specialized requirements without achieving the required scores on Regents exams may earn the CDOS even without meeting requirements for a diploma.

Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential (SACC):

Students with severe disabilities who attend school for 12 years or more and are assessed using the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSSA) graduate with the Skills and Achievement Commencement (SACC) credential. The SACC indicates the student’s functional level of achievement academically and in terms of occupational and career development.

Many students with disabilities are able to perform well academically in high school and advance their education at a college or university. The path a student takes depends on individual circumstances and being aware of what options are available.

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