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Human Development Institute

University Center for
Excellence in Disabilities

Student Graduating from high school

Alternative High School Diploma Update

Published: October 11, 2018

by Jill Griffiths, SPDG-CCR Project Director

Dr. Harold Kleinert, KY Works Project Staff Member, has noted that “a state-defined alternate diploma would allow students with significant cognitive disabilities to be counted as part of our state’s successful high school graduation rate. Most importantly, a state-defined diploma would provide these students with a curriculum that is both relevant and rigorous, and tied directly to the skills for successful employment.”

In April 2012, Kentucky passed Senate Bill 42 to require the KY Board of Education (KDE) to create rules for an alternative high school diploma. This diploma is for students with disabilities whose Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) say they cannot do regular state tests. In federal law, these students are identified as having significant cognitive disabilities. This law started with the graduating class of 2013. The law says that if students with disabilities cannot take part in the state tests, they need to be offered an “alternative course of study.” An “alternative course of study” means students with disabilities do different types of classes and classwork to get their diploma.

After Senate Bill 42 passed, KDE set up a workgroup to figure out what an alternative course of study should look like for students with significant cognitive disabilities. The group also worked to create a teaching model for career and college readiness for students on KY’s alternate assessment. A part of that course of study would be coursework related to employment and work skills. The main point of the course of study was to define the requirements for the Alternative High School Diploma. The group also needed to make sure students still learned about the core content areas during grades 9-12. They also wanted to make sure that the standards for the alternative diploma were the same across our state.

The 2017-18 version of the courses was posted for statewide distribution on the Kentucky Uniform Academic Course Codes webpage in early January 2017. The 2018-19 courses were shared on the same webpage in January 2018. This process continues every year for all courses in Kentucky. You can find descriptions under each course title to learn more about the content. The materials and activities should also be adapted to meet the needs of each student.

State Defined Alternate Diploma under the Every Student Succeeds Act

As Kentucky was working on the Course of Study Leading to the Alternative High School Diploma, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act. President Obama signed this law on December 10, 2015.

The Act provides for a state-defined alternate diploma. ESSA defines the “Alternate diploma” as a diploma for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The Alternate diploma has to meet 3 requirements:

  1. Be based on common standards;
  2. Closely follow the state requirements for a regular high school diploma;
  3. Be completed by age 22 as stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Kentucky’s Alternative High School Diploma likely meets the three requirements above, but KDE still has to make a final decision. Each course leading to KY’s alternative diploma has standards. The courses line up with the minimum required for a regular high school diploma, and a student can earn the diploma by age 22.

KDE is currently looking to adopt state-defined alternate diploma under ESSA. Kentucky and other states have asked the US Department of Education for assurance that students could get this state-defined alternate diploma and still get other education support under the law until 21. Kentucky is waiting for a response from the US Department of Education before asking that the KY Board of Education adopt our state-defined alternate diploma.

A current KDE Advisory Board group is reviewing the course of study for KY’s Alternative High School Diploma. This review includes grading and transcripts, courses credits, requirements for completing a course, and diploma options. The idea is to make a new course of study that helps students with significant cognitive disabilities reach their fullest potential. The course of study needs to also help these students get the skills needed for future work.