State should rethink its local-diploma policy


Since 2012, when New York state adopted the Common Core State Standards, many students with special needs have received certificates rather than diplomas when they completed high school.

Students are required to complete the requirements for a Regents diploma — including passing a minimum of five Regents exams — in order to receive a diploma. That’s just wrong.

Clearly, there are students for whom the “regular stream” was never intended. They should not be treated as second-class citizens, receiving a mere certificate of completion, known bleakly as the Commencement Credential through Career Development Occupational Studies. Students who have worked to the best of their abilities for 12 long years deserve diplomas.

Once upon a time, a special-needs, or a “general education,” student received a local diploma. It was not considered on par with the Regents diploma. Still, it was a diploma, which served as evidence that a student had met certain basic requirements and was ready for community college, the military or the workforce. A certificate simply does not carry the same weight as a diploma.

Thankfully, the State Education Department, it appears, is starting to hear the message. On a trial basis, the department this year allowed superintendents to award local diplomas to special-needs students who had met all the requirements of their Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. According to Long Island’s Board of Regents representative, Roger Tilles, 800 such diplomas were awarded in June.

A number of educators contend that local diplomas lower standards, allowing too many students who could otherwise have completed Regents diplomas to slide by with reduced requirements. We get that. But not all students, including many in the mainstream, are ready for the rigors of a Regents curriculum, and that’s OK. Having more than one set of standards by which students can obtain a high school diploma recognizes the diversity in our school system. Students have different abilities and interests. One-size-fits-all rarely works in life, and it certainly doesn’t work in education.