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IF YOUR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT HAS LEARNING DISABILITIES… The state might have limited their options in life even more.
None shall pass orange

Senator Darren Soto would like to hear from YOU.

In June of 2014, Senate Bill 850 became the law, eliminating the option for students with learning disabilities to obtain a ‘special diploma’. Curricula have been changed so that students with documented disabilities must now take the same subjects and lessons and in the same time frames to learn as mainstream students at the same grade level. There are also multiple changes due to the academic requirements.

From the FL DOE:  DPS: 2014-136 Technical Assistance Paper Senate Bill 850
(See pages 16-18, Sections 19, 20, 26, 27, 28 & 33):

If the individual education plan (IEP) created for a student in grade 7 or 8, as of June 20, 2014, places the student on a special diploma pathway, can they choose a standard diploma option or can he or she opt to stay on special diploma pathway?

Students entering 9th grade in the 2014-15 school year and thereafter, may not work toward a special diploma, they must choose a standard diploma option.

Summary:  High school seniors and juniors, with IEP’s, and who were enrolled in the special diploma option since the 10th grade, will be able to earn a special diploma this year.  However, current sophomores and freshmen, who were also enrolled in a special diploma program, have had these options taken away from them as well.

FROM Florida Statutes

6A-1.09963 High School Graduation Requirements for Students with Disabilities

(1) General requirements.

All students with disabilities should be supported through the provision of allowable accommodations and specially designed instruction to work toward a standard diploma, as defined in section 1003.4282(1), Florida Statutes (F.S.), and a Scholar or Merit designation, as defined in s. 1003.4285, F.S. In accordance with s. 1003.4282(11), F.S., beginning in the 2014- 2015 school year, students with disabilities entering grade nine may also earn a standard high school diploma through alternative courses of study. Nothing contained in this rule shall be construed to limit or restrict the right of a student with a disability solely to the options described in this rule. A certificate of completion will be awarded to students who receive credit for all of the courses listed, but who do not achieve the required grade point average or who do not achieve proficiency on required assessments for which they have not been granted a waiver in accordance with s. 1008.22(3)(c) 2., F.S.

A certificate of completion was awarded for attendance and courses completed.  It says the student showed up, whether they passed or not.  Today, a student must pass the courses listed on their certificate.  This is not a bad thing, except that it precludes in advance, many students with learning disabilities, for whom the certificate of completion is now the only alternative to a standard diploma. They will not even be able to earn a certificate of completion.  

Excerpt from (Link): 
The Repeal of the Special Diploma in Florida and Standard Diploma Options for Students with Developmental Disabilities:

Students no longer have the option to earn a special diploma and are now forced to earn a standard diploma, which many may not have the potential to complete… Parents, students, and educators must be made aware of what this Standard Diploma means and what outcomes they can expect.

The Standard Diploma Option for Students with Disabilities Pathway was originally intended to provide students with the most significant intellectual and developmental disabilities an employment competency pathway for accessing a Standard Diploma. However, initial discussions regarding implementation include not permitting a modified curriculum and requiring a level of paid employment that even students functioning at higher levels may not be able to meet. These elements will effectively exclude students with disabilities and particularly students with more significant cognitive disabilities from accessing this diploma option.  

Finally, students who cannot achieve a standard diploma will receive a certificate of completion. The certificate of completion is a certificate of attendance and record coursework completed. The language included in the 2014 legislation requiring parents to declare an intention for their students to pursue either a standard diploma or a certificate of completion causes the Council concern. The certificate of completion is typically not a goal a student would work toward. Presenting the certificate of completion as an option of choice could result in a significant number of students who do not earn any type of diploma. It does not denote a scholastic track that a student should work to attain.

In order to earn a standard diploma, all students, including students with learning disabilities, need a passing score on the 10th grade FSA Reading and the Algebra 1 EOC.

Students with learning disabilities fall into three categories:

However, students with disabilities can apply for a waiver of FSA and EOC test results in order to obtain a standard diploma.  In lieu of that (or if they opt out), students may earn a concordant score (18 on ACT or 420 on SAT Reading, and pass the Algebra PERT) for a standard diploma. However, students with disabilities, who do not, or cannot pass these tests, no longer have a way to earn a special diploma. A certificate of completion shows only courses taken and attendance and further limits their efforts toward independence and self-sufficiency (Please see link below).

The effects of this bill in the every day lives of students are such that, students who would not be on track for a standard diploma, but who were on track to earn a special diploma, are no longer learning life skills to help them to be independent. Students with disabilities are no longer learning how to balance a check book, or how to make change – or even the real job skills in programs like “On the Job Training (OJT)” that would actually help them to be productive, more independent and more self-sufficient.

Many students are now precluded from OJT because there is simply no time in the schedule of courses required for the four year track to a standard diploma. They are now being drilled with geometry and algebra so they can take the test that they will not pass. To top it all, parents and teachers are reporting that the students are frustrated, acting out, and are exhibiting clear signs of anxiety and depression.  This is not to say that all students with learning disabilities cannot earn a standard diploma.  This post addresses the needs of those students, for whom a special diploma, in the opinion of their parents and teachers, was the best choice for them.

Senator Darren Soto has heard from numerous parents whose children are being negatively affected by the change in law (Senate Bill 850).  He is committed to helping to fix this and would like to schedule a hearing.  Sen. Soto would like to gather more information and is therefore requesting letters from parents, whose children have been affected by the changes to the SPECIAL DIPLOMA LAW.  The more letters he receives, the greater will be the urgency to act.

  

Parents should respond to Sen. Soto by e-mail with their student’s story, type “Special Diploma” in the subject line and send to: soto.darren@flsenate.gov no later than next Friday, Oct 9th.

References

DPS: 2015-16 FL DOE Technical Assistance Paper – 04/17/15
Waiver of Statewide, Standardized Assessment Results for Students with Disabilities

DPS: 2015-34 FL DOE Technical Assistance Paper – 4/17/15
High School Graduation Options for Students With Disabilities

DPS: 2014-136 Technical Assistance Paper – 08/08/14
Senate Bill 850

Diploma Options and Graduation Policies for Students with Disabilities
Published by the National Center on Educational Outcomes
Number 10 / January 2000

Issues Influencing the Future of Transition Programs and Services in the United States: A collection of articles by leading researchers in secondary special education and transition services for students with disabilities – National Transition Network
Institute on Community Integration (UAP) University of Minnesota

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