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Graduation of Students with Disabilities: How Can I Ensure My Child Graduates in 4 Years?

Accessibility, Education

By Amanda Glass, Staff Attorney

If you and your student’s goal is to graduate high school in 4 years with their peers, this post discusses what is required for students with disabilities to graduate and how families can ensure that their student is on-track to meet those requirements and earn a high school diploma.

Requirements to Graduate

To receive a regular high school diploma in Arizona, students must earn a minimum of 22 class credits in specific content areas and in courses that are aligned with the state’s academic standards. Course requirements for a regular high school diploma must include, at a minimum:

  • 4 credits of English or English as a Second Language;
  • 3 credits in social studies to include one credit of American history, including: Arizona history; one credit of world history/geography; one-half credit of American government, including Arizona government; and one-half credit of economics.4 credits of mathematics to minimally include Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 (or a personal curriculum), and a fourth course that contains high school content.
  • 3 credits of science in preparation for proficiency at the high school level on the statewide science assessment.
  • 1 credit of fine arts or career and technical education and vocational education.
  • 7 credits of additional courses prescribed by the local school district governing board or charter school. A.A.C. R7-2-302

Individual school districts or charters may set higher graduation requirements than those above, but may not lower these state requirements.

Whether Special Education Classes Count

Taking a special education class (sometimes labeled as “resource,” “connected,” or “basic,” among other terms, depending on the school) can fulfill graduation requirements. Sometimes families are concerned that a class their student is taking will not count toward graduation. For example, if a student is enrolled in a special education English class instead of a regular education English class, will that class count toward the state’s English credit requirement for a diploma?

Special education classes can count toward graduation with a regular high school diploma, so long as the class covers a content area described above and is aligned to Arizona state academic standards. Even students who participate in the Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) can receive credit toward graduation for their coursework if their courses are aligned to state academic standards through core content connectors, which identify and teach the most important content, knowledge, and skills needed at each grade level to promote success at the next. For example, a student with a disability who passes a geometry class that uses a modified curriculum and is aligned to state geometry standards through core content connectors can fulfill the geometry graduation requirement.

But not all special education classes are aligned to state standards in required content areas. These types of classes may be appropriate for the most significantly disabled students who cannot successfully participate in standard-aligned courses, even when modified curriculum and core content connectors are used. These types of classes are often labeled “functional academics” or “life skills” classes, and course catalog descriptions will usually state that these classes focus on home and community applications of simple concepts. A “life skills” or “functional academics” math course is unlikely to cover the content areas of geometry or algebra, and so should not fulfill those graduation requirements.

Parents and high school students should review the student’s transcript and a school course catalog to determine whether a student’s completed coursework aligns with Arizona’s academic standards and fulfills graduation requirements. To help check if coursework aligns to state standards, look to the core content connectors. Ultimately, the decision as to whether course content is appropriately aligned to Arizona’s academic standards is made by the school district or charter school.

4 Takeaways for Improving Your Child’s Opportunity to Graduate in 4 Years

  • Meet with your student’s academic counselor, registrar, or another administrator and ask for confirmation in writing that if your student passes a given special education class or modified course, that credit will count toward graduation with a regular diploma.
  • Discuss your student’s graduation plan at IEP meetings. While IEP teams cannot change or lower graduation requirements, they can help plan for graduation by reviewing a student’s class schedule and planning for future semesters at the annual IEP meeting.
  • Prepare for any meeting with an academic counselor, administrator, or the IEP team by studying and understanding the core content connectors and state graduation requirements for the subject areas in which your student experiences challenges.
  • If a student is not having success in courses aligned with graduation requirements, the IEP team should discuss whether the student is receiving all the accommodations, modifications, and services the student needs, or if the IEP should be revised to better support the student’s success in these required courses.

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