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Students with disabilities receiving impotent diploma at too-high rate

The graduation rate of students with disabilities continues to be a dark spot on the school completion picture in New York State. Statewide, only 5 percent of students with disabilities earn a Regents diploma in four years, and in New York City, only 20 percent of students with disabilities graduate in four years with a Regents or local diploma, according to the data the state released yesterday.

Also alarming is the proportion of students with disabilities statewide who are included in the 4-year cohort data as receiving an IEP diploma: 12 percent.

An IEP diploma does not allow its recipient to enroll in college or enlist in the military; it merely signifies that the recipient attended high school and met the goals stated in his or her Individual Education Plan. In fact, the state is currently considering changing the name of the diploma to “IEP certificate” to reflect its real value.

Can all students with disabilities earn a Regents diploma, which requires passing five Regents exams? Of course not. But the commonly accepted estimate for the proportion of students unable to complete more rigorous requirements is about 1 percent, Newsday reported last week; in 2005, 4.8 percent of New York City graduates received IEP diplomas.

I’m trying to imagine a situation in which it’s appropriate for a school system to discharge a student with an IEP diploma after only four years. Young people in New York State have the right to remain in school until the end of the academic year in which they turn 21, so unless students enter high school at 17 or close to it — which some probably do, according to a recent Advocates for Children report — there’s no reason for them to leave in four years without a meaningful diploma. In the chart above, it strikes me as misleading for the state to locate this outcome as just a shade away from graduation, when in reality it’s closer to dropping out.

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