A national public concern is whether student skills at the end of high school are good enough to meet the needs of a global economy. Since the 1980s, states and districts across the country have increased their graduation requirements to include more rigorous coursework.
With a new emphasis on college and career readiness, coursework requirements are again increasing in rigor. Further, states are required to report on their success in ensuring that students graduate using a measure known as the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR). This rate is based on the number of students who graduate within four years after their ninth grade year with a regular diploma or an advanced diploma. With the enactment of the Every Student Succeeds Act, states can decide to use an extended-year Cohort Graduation Rate, which allows for including students who earn a regular diploma one or more years, or the summer immediately after the additional year. The Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate also allows for the inclusion of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who were assessed using an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards (AA-AAS ) and awarded a state-defined alternate diploma that is standards-based, aligned with the state requirements for a regular high-school diploma, and obtained within the time period for which the state defines a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
States also are including tests to ensure that students can demonstrate knowledge and skills needed after high school. With increasing frequency, tests no longer reflect minimum competencies, but instead are end-of-course exams or are college entrance exams. Graduation tests like these may create many challenges for students with disabilities, English learners (ELs), and ELs with disabilities.
With or without the tests, there are several graduation requirements that may become barriers for students with disabilities, ELs, and ELs with disabilities. States and districts have created a variety of end-of-school documents to indicate the status of their students. In addition to regular diplomas, and state-defined alternate diplomas that are standards-based and aligned with the state requirements, there are certificates of completion, certificates of attendance, special education diplomas, and a host of other documents. The effects of receiving an end-of-school document other than a regular diploma or a state-defined alternate diploma are important to consider for all students, but especially for students with disabilities, ELs, and ELs with disabilities.