For some students, the traditional educational route does not work, so school staff create an individualized education program or IEP for them. However, the state has not been recognizing these individuals as high-school graduates.
“They meet state exit criteria, but the state says they don’t count,” said Andrew Cook, the middle and high school principal at Hartford. New York calculates graduation percentage by combining those with a Regents’ diploma, which is the highest level, and the local diploma, which is lower. The IEP is the lowest of the three, and does not factor into state numbers.
“Students who finish with an IEP diploma don’t count as graduated; the state calls them noncompleters,” Cook said.
Hartford’s superintendent, Thomas Abraham, said the students are almost counted as drop-outs and has been fighting this issue for years.
“I find that ridiculous because goals and objectives are established for those students, and they work very hard for that,” Abraham said.
“It hurts the school’s graduation percentage. For students, it’s a negative connotation,” Cook said. “Our graduation rate was about 85 percent in the last three years, but I’d argue that it was really 95 percent if you counted the IEP graduates.”
Abraham said the state defends its stance on this issue by citing the No Child Left Behind act; however, he believes they’re allowed to override that.
“The bottom line is the state puts everything into one basket,” Abraham said.
Mark Bessen, Granville’s superintendent, is also unhappy with the way the state categorizes special education students.
“It makes the school look bad on our report card because it doesn’t tell the true story of what these kids do,” Bessen said.
In order to deal with this issue, Hartford is looking into a college and career readiness program. Administrators would replace the IEP with skills and achievement commencement credentials, Cook said. This would allow students to come away with workplace and other skills, which would be important for those who continue to higher education or a job setting.
“Colleges have been saying that many students who start need remedial help in such subjects as math and English,” Cook said, so educators need to address that at the high school level. He said administrators also need to address these issues surrounding their special education students.
Abraham said the school tries to get as many students as possible to graduate with a Regent’s diploma, but said certain individuals need an equivalent, alternative option.
Bessen and Abraham differ on how students who are considered noncompleters are affected after school.
“In the long run, it’s not going to benefit students with disabilities,” Abraham said. “I don’t believe it is a fair reflection of students with learning disabilities.”
Bessen, however, doesn’t think students who graduate with IEP diplomas will be hurt in the long run.
“Students with an IEP usually go on to an organization that makes them job ready,” Bessen said. He has seen many of his graduates with IEPs learn and become very successful through trades after finishing high school. He said the state is proposing a trade certificate for students to graduate with that would prepare them for a good job.
“We need to look at what requirements for the new diploma are and figure out how we can work with the students to meet those,” Cook said.