What will 2020 graduation requirements look like?

To make graduation determinations during the COVID-19 pandemic, school administrators and IEP teams will need to understand new diploma flexibilities and whether each student with disabilities met the revised course credit requirements.
By: | April 28, 2020
gettyimages.com: Ksenia Omelchenkogettyimages.com: Ksenia Omelchenko

Extended school closures due to the coronavirus have upended carefully laid paths toward graduation for students with disabilities across the country. High school administrators and IEP teams now turn to the difficult task of determining if senior students qualify for diplomas this year.

In many cases, state legislation or policies that waive certain requirements due to the pandemic serve as guideposts for such determinations. Local school boards are also making temporary revisions to district graduation requirements—such as the minimum number of volunteer hours or completion of senior projects—that are now impossible to meet.

For IEP teams, making these determinations will involve understanding the graduation flexibilities available and taking a close look at whether each student with disabilities met the revised course credit requirements.

What all educators and families want to avoid is an unfair outcome for the members of the class of 2020 who were on track to graduate before the pandemic emerged. The Oregon Department of Education expressed its viewpoint of this unique situation, by stating in a Graduation Pathways 2020 document, “Oregon’s seniors have invested over 12 years in their education, deepening learning and agency as they approach the culmination of their K-12 experience. … Given that the extended school closure represents only a small fraction of this whole, it is incumbent upon us to determine graduation status in a way that is both fair and reasonable.”

Here’s a look at how some states are addressing specific graduation requirements for students with disabilities:

•Ohio: According to Ohio Revised Code 3313.61(A), an IEP team may determine that a student with disabilities who is eligible for graduation flexibility will graduate by successfully completing his IEP. The team can use progress reports to determine and document if the student has met the goals outlined in the IEP based on the student’s experience through the end of the SY 2019-20. This flexibility also applies to students who take the alternate assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Key considerations for IEP teams making graduation determinations for class of 2020

Here are some important questions IEP teams can ask when determining whether a high school senior with disabilities is eligible for a diploma this year:

• Did the student successfully complete curriculum requirements, aside from requirements that are no longer applicable due to state and local COVID-19 graduation flexibilities?

• What was the student’s status at the end of 11th grade in terms of credit accumulation?

• What credits were earned in the first half of the 12th-grade year?

• What is the process for determining grades for the second half of 12th grade?

• Was the student able and willing to participate in distance learning activities during extended school closures?

• Are there specific graduation criteria or a graduation plan that the student did or did not meet?

• Has the student received appropriate supports and services as detailed on the student’s IEP?

• What do teacher and related service provider narratives say about the student’s progress and efforts?

• If there are unfulfilled requirements, will there be an opportunity over the summer to meet those requirements?

• Can graduation requirements for the class of 2020 be fulfilled over the summer?

• Has the student received appropriate supports and services as detailed on the student’s IEP?

• North Carolina: According to Sherry Thomas, director of the North Carolina Division of Exceptional Children, the state board of education has approved COVID-19 graduation requirements for current-year seniors. This included a reduction in the requirement for competitive work hours from 225 to 157 for seniors who are students with disabilities in the state’s occupational course of study. “We needed some adjustment for the work hours to ensure we did not inhibit a student graduating due to the current conditions of COVID-19,” Thomas says. All students, including students with disabilities, will be able to work on unfulfilled credit requirements through remote learning or the state’s virtual public school.

• Oregon: Guidance from the ODOE says that if seniors with IEPs were on track to graduate this spring, schools should communicate with families about the specific diploma to be earned. If a parent wants her student to continue to receive special education services through the originally planned graduation date, the IEP team will need to meet to discuss the continued need for special education services pending graduation. If a high school senior with an IEP needs more credits to graduate, a district must ensure appropriate services and supports were provided before classifying the senior as off track. That process includes reviewing IEP records to determine that the district provided FAPE and gathering evidence from each teacher or course that an appropriately developed IEP was fully implemented.

· New York: Students with disabilities who were working toward what the state calls a Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential are otherwise eligible to exit from high school in the SY 2019-20 without having met all the requirements, including the required 216 hours of career and technical education coursework and work-based learning. A school principal, in consultation with relevant faculty, can determine that the student has otherwise demonstrated knowledge and skills in the commencement level CDOS learning standards, according to the state’s Regent Examination and Graduation Requirements: Questions Related to the COVID-19 Closure document.

Kara Arundel covers special education for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication. Amy Slater contributed to this report.