- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Advocates for Indiana’s developmentally disabled students worry that a proposed revamping of the state’s diploma system could make it much harder for special-needs youth to get a high school diploma.

The proposals before the State Board of Education would require special-needs students to take more math courses and meet a number of new requirements.

Advocates say their concerns about the impact those changes could have are heightened by the fact that not all Indiana school districts offer the current basic-level diploma. And if they do, they impose additional graduation requirements on students.

Special-needs students who don’t meet those requirements often leave school with a certificate that doesn’t carry as much clout as a diploma during job searches, The Indianapolis Star reported (https://indy.st/1GAaxFd ).

Advocates feel that school districts should offer every diploma type, no matter where a student lives in the state, said Kim Dodson, executive director of The Arc of Indiana, a group that offers programming for the developmentally-disabled community.



But even if that occurs, she worries that as currently structure the proposed diplomas would have a negative impact on special needs students.

“If our goal is to get as many students as possible to leave high school with a diploma that provides them the tools they need to be successful and (receive) post-secondary education opportunities and jobs, I don’t think this proposal does it,” Dodson said

The State Board of Education must act by Dec. 1 on the proposed changes, which would begin for the graduating class of 2022.

Supporters argue that the new diplomas are needed to increase rigor, but opponents say the new diploma requirements could negatively affect at-risk and special-needs students by toughening the climb to earn a diploma.

In addition to requiring more math courses across all diploma types, students would have to take new courses in preparing for college and careers and personal financial responsibility.

Another new requirement would see students taking a sequence of courses that would end with a graduation capstone which could include achieving a career credential or completing a work-based learning experience.

“We have concerns about that within the disability community. Just because our students are not performing well in an academic setting does not mean they cannot be successful as adults with or without a college degree,” said Mary Roth with the Autism Society of Indiana.

The Indiana Department of Education does not track the types of diplomas offered by each school district in the state, agency spokesman Daniel Altman said. Whether school districts will be required to offer all types is a conversation that will involve the Indiana General Assembly, he said.

“We want to listen to everybody and be a part of that conversation,” Altman said.

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, https://www.indystar.com

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