Transcript of NCSET teleconference call held on April 27,
High School Diplomas for Youth with Disabilities: Options and
Martha Thurlow, Ph.D.
Director, National Center on Educational Outcomes
University of Minnesota
Jane Krentz, M.Ed.
Research Fellow, National Center on Educational Outcomes
University of Minnesota
Download the PowerPoint
presentation referenced in this teleconference call (in PDF
format: 24 slides, 403 KB). Also available as an accessible
MS. MACK: Thank you very much. Good afternoon
and welcome to High School Diplomas for Youth with Disabilities:
Options and Alternate Routes. I am Mary Mack and I am an Associate
Director for the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
at the University of Minnesota and today we are pleased to have
Dr. Martha Thurlow and Jane Krentz as our presenters.
Dr. Thurlow is the Director of the National Center on Educational
Outcomes at the University of Minnesota and in this position she
addresses the implications of contemporary U.S. policy and practice
for students with disabilities, including national and statewide
assessment policies, standard setting efforts, and graduation requirements.
Dr. Thurlow has conducted research involving special education for
the past 30 years in a number of areas including assessment, decision
making, learning disabilities, early childhood education, dropout
prevention, effective classroom instruction, and integration of
students with disabilities into the classroom.
Jane Krentz is a Research Fellow with the National Center on Educational
Outcomes. Most recently Jane’s work has focused on the implementation
of No Child Left Behind, the inclusion of children with
disabilities in large-scale assessment and accountability systems,
and the principles of Universal Design. Ms. Krentz was a Minnesota
State Senator from 1993-2002. She served on the K-12 Education Budget
Division for ten years, was Vice-Chair of the K-12 Education Committee
for 4 years, and was Vice-Chair of the Education Finance Committee
for 2 years. Jane has also been very active in education policy
at the national level. She chaired the Education, Labor and Workforce
Development Committee for the National Conference of State Legislatures
in 2001-2002 and has done presentations for numerous policy organizations,
including the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Council
of State Governments, the Center for Policy Alternatives, Women
in Government, and the Education Commission for the States.
Today’s call will have the following format: 45 minutes
of presentation followed by a question and answer period. We ask
that you hold your questions until after the presentation is completed.
In order to make sure everyone can hear the presenters, we ask that
you press the mute on your speakerphone when listening to the presenter.
Now I will turn it over to Dr. Thurlow and Ms. Krentz and they will
start the presentation.
DR. THURLOW: I'm happy to be here to talk about
the seemingly simple topic of diploma options, graduation tests,
and alternative routes to standard diplomas. Within the 45 minutes
that we are going to do this, we will cover materials that are on
a PowerPoint. If we can, we will go a little more quickly than the
allotted 45 minutes so that we have plenty of time for questions.
And with that we will jump right in to the topics. As I said,
it sounds like it should be a simple topic, but it’s a very
complex topic – the topic of diploma options, graduation tests
and whether there are any alternative routes to standard diplomas.
We have been studying these topics for several years now and it
hasn’t gotten any more simple – it has become more complex,
I want to clarify that when we use the term “alternative
route,” we are not necessarily talking about Alternate Assessments.
Alternate Assessments and Alternate Achievement Standards are topics
that have been on lots of peoples’ minds recently so there
is a lot of confusion in terminology. But that’s not the topic
that we are talking about right now. Maybe this will come up again
in questions. But for now, we are really talking about graduation
exams, graduation options, diploma options, and alternative routes
to the standard diploma.
Okay, with that I am on Slide 3 now.
I just wanted to make the point once again that this is such a highly
changing area that even as we do studies in this area about what
is going on, the information is changing. So I am going to present
some information and I think it’s important to keep looking
at snapshots of what’s going on because it gives us an idea
of what is occurring. But you have to realize that even as I present
this information, it’s probably changed somewhat. States are
continually re-evaluating and adjusting their policies, their practices
and their start dates related to these topics that we are talking
The information that we will be presenting today, which we hope
to use as a springboard for discussion, is based on two studies.
When we talk about the diploma options and the exit exams, this
information is based on the study conducted in the year 2002 and
there is a report that is very detailed that is on the Web site
of the National Center on Educational Outcomes. It’s Technical
Report 36 and we will refer to that again. The alternative routes
information that Jane Krentz will talk about is based on a study
that we are wrapping up right now. So those are 2003-2004 data.
Okay. Slide 4. There is a hierarchy
of diplomas out there. The standard diploma has come up in No
Child Left Behind as the kind of diploma that is viewed as
the diploma that will count. There are diplomas above the standard
diploma and that’s fine. But we have also heard about special
diplomas and, as shown in the slide, while the standard diploma
and honors diploma are viewed as okay, we are not so sure about
how to view special diplomas. No Child Left Behind is saying
that they are not being counted within the graduation rate, and
so there are questions about what actually falls within that standard
diploma category. We will talk about the various names that have
been attached to some of the diplomas out there. Does what some
states have called an occupational diploma count as the standard
diploma? There may be people on the line now that have raised this
question with other departments – not the Department of Education
necessarily – where they have received the answer that yes,
the occupational diploma should count as a standard diploma. But
if it counts for one department, such as the Department of Labor,
does it still count as a standard diploma for the Department of
Education? Thus, there are lots of questions that we have related
to diploma options.
Slide 5 shows a map of the U.S. The
blacked out states are states that do not have exit exams –
or did not in 2002 when we did the survey. A couple of the states
are white because they did not respond to our survey. We do know
that they have exit exams but they didn’t respond so we just
left them white. And this attempt was to give a picture of whether
states have a standard diploma only or whether they have several
diploma options, and if they do, whether those options might include
a special education diploma option. If you don’t have the
PowerPoint in front of you, what people are seeing is that there
are 13 states that have the standard diploma only. These states
do not have other options available. Now what we haven’t talked
about, and I hope that this will be part of the discussion, is whether
this is a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, there are pros and
cons to only having the standard diploma. Eight of those states
that have only the standard diploma have exit exams or did at the
time when we conducted the survey.
There are some states that have several diploma options, but it
doesn’t mean that they have diploma options that involve something
that’s only for students with disabilities. This is a conclusion
you might jump to, too. For example, Delaware is a state that has
had – this is debated again now – three options: basic,
standard, and distinguished. Those are options available to all
students, nothing designated specifically for students with disabilities.
It’s all very complex and underneath this, each state has
debated whether we want to have one option, and if we have more
than one option, what are our beliefs and values that underlie why
we would have more than one option. So Slide 6
shows some of those names that have been used: graduation certificates,
high school certificates, pre-GED’s skills option certificate,
modified diploma – there are lots of names out there. Some
of them are not very revealing about what the diploma option actually
entails. In some states, they are revealing, such as the special
Slide 7 gives an indication about what
was going on in terms of exit tests in the year 2002. At that time
we had 26 states plus the District of Columbia that had exit exams
that were either active or soon to be active. These exams have been
in place and effective anywhere from 1983 to coming on board in
2008. How students with disabilities factor into the exit exam requirement
and the nature of the diploma options is extremely variable and
I think part of what we hope to have for discussion about it –
what part of that variability plays into the options open for students
with disabilities. We do know that the exit exam continues to change
in terms of when they actually are active.
On Slide 8 you see another kind of variability
of factors, and that is whether the state has a requirement that
students pass the test or whether there is a requirement that the
district impose some kind of test. There are two states that have
had that requirement – Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have required
that the districts impose a test that students pass in order to
get a standard diploma.
Are they active now? Are they soon to be active? Look at Slide
9, which gives a list of states where they are already
doing this, have been doing it, or are just starting doing it. In
the slide, we listed states that have their test active in 2003
or 2004 or they are going to be active in the future. We have put
notes on the slide indicating the date something changed or will
be changing. Also, standards have changed and this is part of the
variability in terms of activity around testing and standards that
underlies the graduation exams and the options that are out there
And moving on, one of the challenging things about these tests
is not only that they are variable and they have different criteria
in terms of how they include kids with disabilities, but there is
a huge fear out there about the graduation exams and how terrible
they are for kids. And not just those with disabilities but all
kids. So because more and more data are reported publicly, I pulled
some data from one state that has done a good job of publicly reporting
its data. Massachusetts’s data are presented in Slide
11. Massachusetts publicly reported the data in terms
of the various ethnic groups, showing data in terms of the first
time its students passed the test, and on retesting, each time you
see the increases in percentages of students passing the test. On
Slide 12, you see that Massachusetts
has also disaggregated the data by subgroups of students with disabilities
and students with Limited English Proficiency in comparison to their
general education students. These data again show a significant
increase in the percentage of students who pass the test after the
I highlighted Massachusetts because it is one of a number of states
that have an alternative route available to students who are unable
to demonstrate what they know and are able to do on the regular
state test. Slide 13 opens up our presentation
to that discussion of alternative routes to standard diplomas. At
the National Center on Educational Outcomes we have talked about
the importance of having – for students with disabilities
and perhaps all students – a way that students have access
to other ways to demonstrate they have mastered the knowledge and
skills that are assessed by exit exams. We’ve also talked
about the importance of having better designed tests – universally
designed tests – and the importance of making sure that you
have policies that are carried down to the implementation phase.
But in addition to those, it is important to think through approaches
for alternative routes to the standard diploma. It is something
that we think is really important to do and so I am going to turn
the presentation over to Jane Krentz to talk about the information
that we have been collecting on alternative routes to the standard
MS. KRENTZ: Thank you, Martha. I want to first
of all give a caveat that the next portion of our teleconference
is based on a study that we are working on currently so these data
are preliminary. We have received feedback in terms of confirmation
and verification from several of the states, but not all of them
yet. So I would just caution that the data are still considered
We started with the 2003
Survey of Special Education Directors that NCEO did entitled
Marching On and we looked at those data to see which states had
some form of high-stakes tests and then we asked what happens if
students don’t pass the high-stakes test? We wanted to know
if there are alternative routes to a standard diploma available
for all students, or specifically are there alternative routes available
just for students with disabilities? You can look at Slide 15 with
the map that shows preliminary information on which states currently
have an alternative route and which states are in the process of
planning an alternative route. Seven states responded to us that
they do not have another option other than simply passing the exit
exam. They may have numerous opportunities for retaking the exams,
they may have extra tutoring or extra assistance, but the only way
that the students can graduate is if they pass the exit exams. The
states that responded that they didn’t have an alternative
method were Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, South Carolina,
Tennessee, and Washington. Some states are planning to have high-stakes
tests soon but haven’t implemented them yet and haven’t
specifically posted information on their Web site as to whether
they will have an alternative route or not. So we know some states
that are going to have high stakes tests – but we don’t
know whether they will have an alternative process or not.
Slide 16 shows what we found. First,
it is important for you to know that we looked at the NCEO information
and then we checked the state’s Web site for further details.
We printed up a little summary of what we found there and included
that information and a table and then we sent these out to the various
states for verification. We wanted to be sure that information was
publicly available on the states’ Web sites. Some states’
information was very easy to find – we just went to the Web
site and it was very evident, and it was available to anybody who
is interested. Other states required quite a bit of sleuthing. It
was frustrating, because in some instances we would check back the
following week and there would be nothing – the link that
we had printed up was no longer available. So, as Martha made reference
to before, this is a very changing field. For example, when the
legislature is in session, in many states, things can change daily.
Now, getting back to slide 16, four states indicated that they
have a process in place or one coming on line that would involve
all students. Those were Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey
and we included Oregon – which has a little star next to it,
because while Oregon does not exactly have a high-stakes test, it
does have a certificate of initial mastery, which has a similar
process in terms of the integrity and the value it holds. Since
they do have an alternative route, we wanted to include them in
the report as well.
Three states have a process only for students with disabilities:
California, New Mexico, and North Carolina. California’s test
is not in place yet but is in the planning stages, and California
has indicated online that the process will be only available for
special education students. We found nine states that seem to have
Web site information that indicated that they have more than one
process: one process specifically for students with disabilities
and another general alternative route to a standard diploma that
would be available for all students. Those states, for those of
you who don’t have access to the PowerPoint presentation,
are Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio,
As we looked at the various processes that states had, we asked
the question – How do students who fail the test become involved
in this alternative process? Who can make the request to use an
alternative route? What we found is shown in Slide 17.
There was quite a wide variation in who can make the request for
an alternate route. In four states the students can make that request
themselves: those were Alaska, Georgia, Mississippi, and Oregon.
A parent or guardian can make the request in seven states –
Alaska, California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina,
and Oregon. The student’s teacher can make the request in
3 states – Indiana, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. School
personnel in general are the sources of requests in New Jersey,
and district personnel make the request in Mississippi. The IEP
committee makes the request in Alaska and Virginia. Massachusetts,
where anyone may make the request for an appeal, only the superintendent
of schools or that person’s designee may actually file the
appeal. For six states we searched the Web site and there really
wasn’t any clear information to indicate how the process was
initiated or by whom: Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York,
Ohio, and Texas.
Moving on to Slide 18, which focuses
on what happens once these requests are made and the alternative
routes are proceeding. We asked the question, “Who actually
makes the decision? Who approves the request for an alternative
route?” You can see on slide 18 there is quite a variety –
several states rely on State Board or State Superintendent input,
and others utilize the local IEP team, or experts from another school.
There were three that were unclear. Several states had very specific
processes in place and they are very clearly delineated on their
Web sites and other states’ information just indicates there’s
an appeals process or a waiver process without spelling out exactly
who is involved and how the process works.
Another question, moving on to Slide 19,
that’s very difficult to get our hands around is the rigor
of the alternative route. It is difficult to tell if the alternative
process requires the same level of rigor as the general process.
We are beginning to get some indication that the routes for students
with disabilities are frequently less rigorous than the alternative
routes for general education students. Preliminary analyses on this
topic are being attempted, but it is difficult to determine rigor
based on the information provided on most state Web sites.
On Slide 20 there is a chart that summarizes
alternative options for general education students. You can see
Florida, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas have an alternative
test on which students can demonstrate competency. Slide
21 tells a little bit more about this. Florida is
notated because the alternative test was only allowed by legislation
for the year 2003. At the legislature this year, policymakers were
debating whether or not Florida would again allow an alternative
test. We currently don’t know if that’s been resolved
or not, but as of when we conducted our online searches, this issue
was still undetermined.
Two states have a portfolio assessment: Massachusetts and Ohio.
Massachusetts also has an option for a comparison with the student’s
cohort. There is a waiver from the exam in Alaska and Georgia. Minnesota
reported that the district can establish an alternative route, although
it was not spelled out on the Web site, but this information was
verified by the state. Mississippi had a process that allowed a
substitute evaluation with supporting evidence. And then there is
a little asterisk missing on the slide that should have indicated
that Oregon uses juried assessment as their alternative method of
acquiring a Certificate of Initial Mastery.
Slide 22 shows the approaches specifically
for students with disabilities. You can see that most of those fall
in the waiver category. Two states, Minnesota and New Jersey, have
a different test to demonstrate competency. These are described
further in Slide 23. Again Minnesota has
a little asterisk because it’s actually the same test as the
general assessment, but the state allows it to be modified or the
score lowered for students with disabilities. So it is using the
same assessment tool but with different criteria. New Mexico and
North Carolina have a different curriculum or occupational course
of study. New Mexico has the Standard Pathway, Career Readiness
Pathway, and the Ability Pathway.
Seven states have a waiver from the exam – Alaska, California,
Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, and Texas. There is an asterisk
by Georgia because their waiver provision for students with disabilities
is specifically for students with disabilities that have no means
of written communication due to severe physical disabilities. So
there were very specific criteria for Georgia’s waiver.
The final slide on the PowerPoint presentation
is information on how to reach us at the National
Center on Educational Outcomes. There’s our general phone
number, our fax. and our Web site where you will find all this information
as well as Martha’s and my e-mail addresses.
MS. MACK: So now we’ll open it up to questions
and discussion. If you would please state your name, and the state
from which you are calling, before asking the question that would
be helpful. So, with that, we will take the first question.
MR. SCHOECK: I will jump in. This is Tom Schoeck,
New York State. This question is mainly for Martha, I think. We
have been now for about six years working on our alternate assessment
for students with severe disabilities – and so have many other
states. As a matter of fact, the CCSSO collaborative on that topic
went through several years focusing only on that topic. How come
so few states are showing that they are using it? I thought we had
a federal requirement to have such an assessment available.
DR. THURLOW: Within the materials we were presenting
today we were not looking at the alternate assessment for significant
cognitive disabilities. So that’s not what you saw in the
slides that we have today.
MR. SCHOECK: So we’re looking at different
tiers of diplomas in your PowerPoint presentation?
DR. THURLOW: Right. None of the maps that you
saw shows alternate assessments for students with significant cognitive
disabilities. Many states have not decided to connect a diploma
through their alternate assessment for students with significant
cognitive disabilities. Some states that have a standard diploma
have that for all students. It doesn’t matter what the severity
of the disability is. So, that’s one of the complexities that
we have in the standard diploma. In any of the maps that were in
the PowerPoint, those were only about graduation exams or alternative
routes to a standard diploma. If you go into the NCEO website, you
will find information on alternate assessments for students with
significant cognitive disabilities, and when you look at that, most
states now have those – I think all but three states and the
three states that didn’t have them were revising them.
MR. SCHOECK: Okay, thank you.
MS. WHETSTONE: Mabrey Whetstone, Alabama. Looking
at the list that all the states received about the places of special
education with the diploma – in the states that are at the
top of this, for OSEP’s purposes, in looking at diplomas.
Is there a possibility of doing different tiers for the same diploma?
DR. THURLOW: Give me a little more context.
MS. WHETSTONE: Okay. Is the concept that OSEP
is concerned with, is that all students receive the same document
instrument, the same document, or is it just the content must be
the same in all the routes coming to that document?
DR. THURLOW: This is Martha and I probably cannot
answer that question. It is probably a question that you need to
ask of OSEP. I probably cannot answer questions that are about the
requirements of any part of the Department of Education.
MS. RYDER: Martha?
DR. THURLOW: Yes.
MS. RYDER: This is Ruth.
DR. THURLOW: Oh, hi Ruth – good.
MS. RYDER: I don’t know if you want me
to respond or not.
DR. THURLOW: Yes, yes please.
MS. RYDER: I would be happy to try. Now this
is Ruth Ryder from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special
Education Programs, Monitoring and State Improvement Planning Division,
which assists with special education program monitoring. The information
that Mabrey is referencing is the rank order work that we have been
doing around our focused monitoring; this comes out of our division.
And Mabrey, we actually attempted to do exactly what you are talking
about for this year. We called it cohorting – we tried to
cohort states by the type of requirements for graduation that they
had, whether it was high stakes, whether kids had additional opportunities
to take the exam if it was high stakes, whether there was a different
exam. What ended up happening was we had so many breakdowns in the
data – Martha worked with us on this to think about relevant
breakdowns – that it almost became meaningless. It was very
difficult to figure out a way to do the cohorting – you know,
in a responsible way. So I think, we will continue to look at it,
because it is – it does make sense to do this, but it turned
out to be more difficult than we thought it was going to be.
MS. WHETSTONE: Thank you. I appreciate that.
What I am really trying to get at is, of course, I am always concerned
about where we are in listings and I am trying to figure out an
appropriate way of ensuring that we have more students with a diploma.
We have different diplomas, but as I understand and I see from some
of the other states they have different diplomas too. But they are
counting them all towards a diploma and we do not do that. And that’s
why I am trying to figure out how to make this work.
MS. RYDER: Okay. I believe that the direction
for the data tables that are going to be coming out for the 12/1/2004
correction are going to make it clearer what we are looking for
in that regular diploma.
MS. WHETSTONE: Thank you.
DR. THURLOW: That is useful for us to know as
well because in our study as we look at that, that kind of accomplishes
what we are trying to get at in that rigor question in terms of
the alternative routes – whether they have the same rigor.
MS. BALDUF: Hi, this is Lisa Balduf from Iowa.
I was wondering if students are – I thought I heard a category
about vocational – do people get graded on a work experience
level? Or can they get a diploma through successful work experience?
DR. THURLOW: What I know about, and Mabrey maybe
you can speak up, because I know of two states that have a diploma
that is related to something called “occupational.”
One is Alabama. It has an occupational diploma. But I can’t
remember exactly the criteria for earning the occupational diploma.
MS. WHETSTONE: Our occupational diploma we do
not count as though they are diplomas for general education and
so that is not counted in our numbers. Generally the diploma that
we count is the Alabama High School Diploma. But there are ways
to acquire the occupational diploma and it’s through career
and technical education approved programs, co-opting others requirements
or part of that. But we have not used that in our category for diploma.
However, that is something that we are beginning to look at.
DR. THURLOW: I believe North Carolina also has
something similar to that and uses that as an alternative route
to their standard diploma.
MS. KRENTZ: It’s called the occupational
courses study including 22 subject credits, school-based vocational
training, work-based vocational training, competitive employment
training, and a career portfolio started in 2001. No extra exam
is required for students who are following the occupational courses
MS. BALDUF: Thank you. I also wondered if people
who had alternate diplomas – are they also using alternate
DR. THURLOW: That is a very complex question.
That’s a whole other issue, whether there is some kind of
alternative grading system in place. I think that right now we are
looking at this in terms of whether there is an alternate diploma
or not. This is a very important topic, but too complex to discuss
here today and not really the focus of our study.
MS. BALDUF: Another day?
DR. THURLOW: Yeah, I think so. I think that’s
a whole other issue. The grading issue and whether students end
up in courses where they have alternative kinds of grading systems.
MS. BUSENBARK: This is Lynn Busenbark, Arizona.
This question is for Ruth. Are you prepared to give us what your
thinking is with regard to what constitutes the standard diploma?
MS. RYDER: Actually that work is coming out of
research to practice, and I don’t have the forms in front
of me right now. They’re still going through OMB clearance.
MS. GRONEWOLD: This is Sue Gronewold, New Mexico.
We had some wrong information on New Mexico and maybe when you went
to our Web site, that’s when we were revising our TA document
for the pathways to the diploma. So it’s on our Web site now.
If you have difficulty with that let me know and I’ll send
it to you.
DR. THURLOW: All right we will do that. That
would be wonderful. This is just in time.
MS. GRONEWOLD: One of the things we’re
trying to look at here is, you know we have three pathways to the
standard diploma, the same diploma for all students. And the issue
is the transcript more so than the diploma, and what that transcript’s
going to look like as far as showing the student’s competencies
in the career readiness area. And so that’s something I think
folks need to start thinking about as well. It’s not just
the diploma, but how we can better document a student’s competencies
that they acquire.
DR. THURLOW: Right. So you have something to refer
to. “Standard diploma” now means lots of things, but
the transcript may reflect the actual knowledge and skills of various
MS. KRENTZ: I have a clarification question.
Are New Mexico’s pathways just for students with disabilities?
Is it available for any student or is it specifically for students
MS. GRONEWOLD:Currently it’s for with students
with disabilities, but our state is looking at career pathways for
all students, which is confusing in a sense because they named it
the same thing. Ours is Pathways to the Diploma and there is Career
Pathways, and how that’s going to look – it’s
going to depend on what we do as a state since the leadership summit
on the graduation high school reform issues. I thought maybe we
would cover more of that because I think that’s something
that’s going to help, but I know that we want to make sure
that our students do have the high expectations – there are
educators in this state who have high expectations for all students.
DR. THURLOW: Good, this is very important because
we had not gotten the verification from your state, so we will pursue
MS. BENDERSKI: I would like to ask a question.
I’m in Alaska. Is anyone familiar with any states that are
using an approach of issuing a diploma that may be tied to sort
of a series of high stakes examinations, but that the diploma may
indicate an endorsement in the area of proficiency. So, for instance,
an endorsement in reading and writing, but not an endorsement in
mathematics or an endorsement in employability.
MS. GREGORIAN: I’ve heard that –
I think New York has something like that.
MS. BENDERSKI: My name is Judith Benderski, I’m
with the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education.
So in other words, there is one diploma whether a student passes
the exit exam or the qualifying exam or not, but that it’s
maybe indicative of what areas the student passed and didn’t
DR. THURLOW: Yes, I’ve heard that, but
I don’t know whether any state has actually enacted it yet.
If any state is on the line that’s doing this speak up please.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I don’t think so.
DR. THURLOW: I know that there is some state
talking about it. If we find anything we’ll get back to you,
if we can.
MS. LEWIS: Hi, this is Beth Lewis from Wisconsin
and I have two questions. The first question is, what are you using
to determine rigor, is that based on data or opinion or research?
DR. THURLOW: : Right now we’re trying to
figure out what we’re going to use as our rubric or criteria
for rigor. We have not determined that yet. But we’re working
on that right now. If you have suggestions, we will take them into
MS. LEWIS: My only concern in asking that question
is that all too frequently we have people who offer opinions that
it may not be as rigorous if it is in an alternative program, or
in special ed, when it may be exactly the same thing.
DR. THURLOW: Right, right. Well, we would love
any suggestions because we were concerned about similar issues.
When we were preparing for the presentation, we had started to actually
identify states that we thought were exactly the same rigor and
others that were not, and then we pulled back because we have to
define our criteria for different levels of rigor more specifically
and we’ve got to get that rubric out there so that we’ve
got agreements that different people look at them. So we’re
working on that right now, but we’d love suggestions that
you have to get at rigor.
MS. LEWIS: Okay, good. Thank you. My second question
is, in Wisconsin we are very much a local control state, where the
statutory language says that what you must have to graduate is determined
by each local school district, of which there are 426. Each district
can decide what types of diplomas they’re going to issue.
What impact does that have on your study?
DR. THURLOW: Uh-huh, it just adds to the wonderful
variability and complexity of it.
MS. LEWIS: And also, Ruth, I’m a little
concerned. We just finished issuing reporting data to our school
districts based on your definitions of regular and alternative diplomas
and now I understand you’re going to make some more changes?
MS. RYDER: I’m not sure what definitions
you’re talking about. You’re talking about ones that
came out of the department?
MS. LEWIS: Correct. In terms of what constituted
a regular diploma, what constituted an alternative diploma, and
what constituted a completer in terms of graduation data.
MS. RYDER: Okay – these are changes that
will be for the Section 618 data collection. And as I said, the
forms right now are going through department clearance. So –
MS. LEWIS: Okay, I’ll alert our people.
SANDY: Hi, this is Sandy from Montana. When you
were talking about rigor and you wanted to have some suggestions
for that, my question or concern is that you’re trying to
establish a standard, is that correct?
DR. THURLOW: We’re trying to decide if
the alternative pathway requires the same effort, the same level
of competency by all students, or if it’s just a waiver and
they don’t have to demonstrate proficiency, and they still
get the diploma. And some cases it’s pretty clear that they
have a very specific but alternative method to achieve the same
high standard; in other instances it’s clear that they don’t
and there’s a whole bunch in the middle, but we really can’t
tell. It may be stated that it’s a similar – but we
really can’t tell this from looking on the Web. So that’s
actually why we didn’t go forward with it.
SANDY: Yeah, because that’s my concern
if – you know, the students that are in special ed, that’s
why they have their individual plans and they do it in different
ways because that’s the way they need to do it and they can’t
just be all to the same rigor.
DR. THURLOW: Right. And this is not the alternative
assessment now, with the 1%. We’re not talking about that,
which makes it very confusing when we say alternate/alternative,
whatever we decide to call it. This is not just the very seriously,
severely disabled. We’re talking about any student or other
students with disabilities who aren’t in the 1%, but have
a different pathway to accomplish the graduation requirement.
We think it’s really an important and critical question
to somehow get at it, but we also recognize the real importance
of being very careful in how we define that rigor, because we believe
very much in the importance of having those alternative pathways.
But we also want to not be communicating that sense that the students
with disabilities can’t do it, and so they need a lower standard
because then we’re back in the same route and problem where
we have been before that we have low expectations that they really
can’t do it and we know that they can do it, so that’s
part of what we are struggling with.
SANDY: This is still Sandy. I am wondering if
you know the way of getting to that. I agree they can’t do
it, but a lot of times the reason that they are in special education,
they are receiving special services is because they do it a different
way and so I don’t want them to have an alternative diploma
saying you don’t have the real diploma, you have a different
DR. THURLOW: Right, we agree, and want to recognize
that they get a standard diploma and that they are able to get that
by doing things in a different way. We think there are some really
good models out there, where they may stand before a panel that
includes, for example, a principal or a higher education person,
and the state department person, and students are not responding
on a paper-and-pencil test, but they are demonstrating that they
have met the standard – that’s the rigor that we are
looking for. Massachusetts is an example, I think, where the students
must meet high expectations. Oregon is a good example. There are
some other states we could cite that allow students with disabilities
to essentially be excused from taking the test. So those are some
of the extremes. We now have to focus on the ones in the middle
where we need the criteria to help us sort through. Does this represent
the same rigor or not?
MS. KRENTZ: And this does not only have to do
with special education students. Some states just have an alternative
test and allow students to take the SAT, ACT, AP, or IB tests, and
we would assume that they would be similar rigor.
SANDY: Okay, thank you.
DR. JONES: This is Bonnie Jones at the Office
of Special Ed Programs in Washington, DC. I will just take this
break and the question to thank the exiting community for planning
today’s teleconference in collaboration with the National
Center on Educational Outcomes and the National Center on Secondary
Education and Transition and I wanted to announce the next teleconference
that the exiting community is sponsoring. That is on May 25th at
the same time, whichever time zone you are in, and Nancy Reder of
the National Association of State Directors of Special Education
will be discussing from that organization’s perspective, the
MS. BALDUF: This is Lisa Balduf from Iowa. I
was wondering about students who have more severe cognitive disabilities
and their diplomas and if they are – you know, talking to
employers they say they just want to know if the potential worker
can complete their goals so couldn’t they be graded and receive
diplomas based upon our IEP goals? I don’t think a certificate
of attendance really gets it.
DR. THURLOW: Yes, it would be good to have exit
documents that communicated a list of goals achieved and accomplishments,
and perhaps that highlighted those areas that are workplace relevant
in which the student has succeeded by the end of the student’s
career. All of this would probably be more useful than a piece of
paper called a diploma. This would be beneficial for all students,
but we should probably definitely do it for students with significant
cognitive disabilities. It would be very beneficial for future employers.
MS. BELL: This is Pam Bell calling from Indiana.
What is your best solution for a student who takes all the qualifying
courses for a diploma, and they pass all those courses, but they
cannot pass our graduation qualifying exam and they don’t
make it for the waiver for one reason or another. Yet they are a
higher than a certificate of attendance or certificate of completion.
What would be your ideal situation for exiting that way?
DR. THURLOW: Remind me of what the waiver looks
like in Indiana.
MS. BELL: They have five criteria. One, you have
to have a 95% attendance rate.
MS. KRENTZ: You are right. It’s a very
MS. BELL: Yes. C average, take remediation every
time it’s offered. Take the test every time it’s offered.
And the teacher must sign off that they have 9th grade skills. And
that is usually the part that they don’t have. They are usually
coming up without 7th grade skills or 6th grade skills, but still
they passing all the courses. They are working their butts off to
get an “A”.
DR. THURLOW: Yeah, so there are a couple of considerations
there. One is to have a more flexible alternative route. That kind
of alternative route is pretty inflexible. I would say we haven’t
thought of doing that, grading the flexibility of routes. But we
are hoping we will have this document out within the next month.
We are having each state verify their information, and we will indicate
which states did not verify. So we will have each state verify a
description of their alternative routes and you will see the variation
in kind of what the routes are like. Some are much more flexible
in sort of the criteria for getting into the route but for some
other routes, it’s almost impossible for a student to have
an opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and skill because they
can’t even get into the alternative routes to begin with.
MS. BELL: When you say alternate routes, you mean
that so you think they should get a diploma?
DR. THURLOW: I am not saying necessarily that.
It goes back to what’s the meaning of your diploma. So if
you are saying a student has 7th grade skills, now that’s
– you know, maybe questionable. You are saying they are mastering
and they are passing all their coursework. Is completing all their
coursework meeting the criteria in your state for what the meaning
of a diploma is? There are still some hard issues that you have
got to be addressing within your state. So I can’t say yes
or no, that student should get a diploma. And I think still there
are some tough issues to address. But I think underlying it, there
are also some issues about whether or not your alternative route
is flexible and generous enough to kids. Is it easy enough for kids
to get into that route to demonstrate their knowledge and skills?
Is just having a standard diploma enough? Should there be options
that are available to all kids, and not just the kids with disabilities?
For example, the options like Delaware has – though I know
they are controversial in Delaware – are available to all
kids. Basic means that you have met all of your coursework requirements,
and you get a basic diploma. It’s a standard diploma and it
means that you passed your coursework, but you haven’t passed
the test. The next is comprehensive, and it means that you have
passed the test and done your coursework, and in addition that you
have reached a certain level on the test.
MS. AMUDSON: This is Judith Amudson from Iowa,
and I’m just wondering what on earth you are finding here
(in Iowa) or if we are just a blank?
DR. THURLOW: You didn’t have a graduation
high stakes exam or structure, so you were not included in the Alternate
Route because you didn’t have a requirement in the first place
according to what we found. And so if you go to the NCEO’s
Web site and look at Technical Report 36, you will be represented
there in terms of graduation requirements. What we focused on today
were those states that had graduation and exit exams. What we really
wanted to look at were those states that had exit exams, and whether
or not there were alternative routes for kids to get a standard
MS. AMUDSON: Okay, thanks.
MS. DAVIS:This is Gillian. I am in Nevada. I
am with the Parent Training and Information Center. Could you give
us some recommendations as far as how do we educate those that are
making the decisions of what tests our kids are going to be taking?
The content, so that they have a clear understanding of the population
– when they determine that this test will have such and such
content as well as will it represent whether or not a child actually
gets a diploma.
DR. THURLOW: You mean, decision makers like IEP
teams. How do they know what content the kids need to have?
MS. DAVIS: I am actually talking on the state
level if you look at the exit exams, what I have often seen is that
individuals who may not have the broad-based knowledge to make the
unilateral decisions are the ones who are making the decisions for
all kids, and so “all kids” tends to leave out some
of our students with the most significant disabilities or those
that need more of the resources. So I guess my question was, how
do we get to them to understand so that when decisions are made,
we could be looking at more alternatives?
MS. MACK: I’m going to jump in here and
see if I can pull an answer out of our former state senator. I think
what you are trying to get at is that the whole issue of accountability
is very, very complex and the policymakers are having difficulty
understanding that scope of the student population in order to make
those policy decisions that really, appropriately address the needs
of all students – is that sort of where you are coming from
with the question?
MS. DAVIS: Yeah.
MS. KRENTZ: I think that’s true and as
someone who was in the legislature while working at NCEO, I would
try to bring research-based information to the discussion, and they
want to respond with sound bites and what’s popular…to
stick your finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing,
and make decisions that way. I think we do need better communication.
To the extent that you personally know your own policymakers and
can offer to be a resource for them. But we need to have communication
at all levels of policymaking, whether it’s elected policymakers
or whether it’s communicating with persons in the state department,
in the school districts, in the classroom, with parents. We all
need to work together if we are going to do this right. That’s
probably a topic for another conference call in the future, but
it’s an excellent question.
DR. THURLOW: Yes.
MS. MACK: And I will give my 30 seconds to the
extent that all of us can work particularly within our state on
developing a more common message that state legislatures are going
to give national policymakers. They are hearing 40,000 different
things from us, and it’s hard for them to sort it through
and so to the extent that we can work together to provide more common
messages, I think that would be helpful. With that, I am going to
turn it over to Martha to give us NCEO’s Web site address
so that you can access the Web site and get in touch with Jane and
Martha and ask more questions.
DR. THURLOW: Great. This is good discussion.
I am glad we had plenty of time for the discussion. The NCEO website
or you can go to any search engine and put in the letters “NCEO”
and you will find the National Center on Educational Outcomes.
MS. KRENTZ: It’s also the final slide in
MS. MACK: And thank you very much for your participation.
We look forward to talking to you next month. Thank you.
END OF TELECONFERENCE
^ Top of Page ^