Transcript of NCSET teleconference call held on September
Pathways to the Diploma
Special Education Bureau
New Mexico Public Education Department
Download the PowerPoint
presentation referenced in this teleconference call (in PDF
format: 63 slides, 3.18 MB). (Also available as an accessible
MRS. STENHJEM: Thank you. Hi, everyone, and welcome
to our teleconference call sponsored by the National Center on Secondary
Education and Transition. My name is Pam Stenhjem and I am one of
several associate directors at the Center. I coordinate the Youth
and Family Network here and I will be the moderator for this teleconference
call. The title of our call today is “Pathways to the Diploma”
and our presenter is Sue Gronewold, an educational administrator
for the Special Education Bureau of the New Mexico Public Education
I am going to read a little bit from what we had on our Web site
so you can understand what we will be talking about today, then
go over a few logistics for the call, and then we will turn this
over to our presenter. Here is an overview of the topic:
New Mexico defines the “pathway” as the planned program
of study, designed to address the needs of individual students.
Students receiving special education services are able to earn the
standard high school diploma by following one of three pathways:
standard (the regular high school program of study), and one of
two alternative options: the career readiness pathway or the ability
pathway. IEP teams may use a certificate with the follow-up plan
of action in the form of an IEP when a student has completed high
school and is on track for graduation but still has transition needs.
The certificate with the follow-up plan of action entitles the student
to participate in graduation activities, but does not end a student’s
entitlement to a free and appropriate public education. Successful
completion of the selected pathway earns the student a high school
diploma and the right to participate equally in all graduation activities.
Ms. Gronewold will explain each of these three pathways and their
implications for students with disabilities.
Now, as far as logistics before we get started, I would just like
to reiterate that our presentation begins with an approximately
45-minute presentation by our speaker and then we will take questions.
Another announcement at this time is that the Division on Career
Development and Transition (DCDT) will hold their conference this
year (2005) in Albuquerque, New Mexico around October 20-22 and
we probably will have information about that on the NCSET Web site
at http://www.ncset.org/ so if you want more information on that,
I am sure you can find it there. Now I am going to turn the call
over to Ms. Gronewold and have her get us started.
MRS. GRONEWOLD: Hello, everyone. I am Sue Gronewold
and I work for the New Mexico Public Education Department. In my
presentation today I will provide background information on graduation
issues in New Mexico, describe the three graduation options for
students with disabilities, discuss each pathway’s graduation
regulations and guidelines for implementation, and other related
state and federal regulations connected to New Mexico’s graduation
options for students with disabilities. You will be able to access
the pathways technical assistance document and the PowerPoint at
http://www.ncset.org/. The matrix on pages 22 and 23 of the technical
assistance document provides a brief overview of the requirements
for each of the three pathways and guidelines for using the certificate
with a follow-up plan of action.
MRS. STENHJEM: We have both documents on our Web
site at http://www.ncset.org/. If you go to the Teleconference page,
at the bottom of the page you will find a PowerPoint presentation
as well as a link to their guidebook on this topic.
MRS. GRONEWOLD: New Mexico is one of many states
with a high stakes graduation exam. However, New Mexico is the only
state that provides graduation options for students with disabilities
to earn a standard diploma. These options or pathways enable the
IEP team to develop a program of study that is most conducive to
preparing a student to achieve his/her postschool goals while maintaining
the integrity of the high school diploma. Prior to the development
of Pathways to the Diploma there were significant concerns surrounding
the issuance of diplomas to students with disabilities.
Previous state regulations regarding IEP graduation read as follows:
“Districts shall establish polices for awarding a diploma
or certificate of completion in situations where students do not
meet graduation requirements. In accordance with local policy, districts
may award a diploma to a student receiving special education services
upon completion of a planned course of study based upon IEP objectives
in lieu of required criteria for a high school diploma. The student’s
IEP team is responsible for recommending to the local board whether
it is appropriate for the student to receive a high school diploma
or certificate of completion.”
Some districts gave students with disabilities a certificate of
completion if the student was in full-day special education classes,
had good attendance, and achieved their IEP goals. Other districts
awarded diplomas to students even though they had not completed
their IEP goals or earned enough credits. In some cases, students
with accommodations or assistive technology received certificates
of completion even though they had met all the graduation requirements.
The drop-out rate for students with disabilities was higher than
students without disabilities. Finally, some local school boards
were unwilling to approve the issuance of a high school diploma
to students in special education programs after the student’s
successful completion of the goals and objectives outlined in the
student’s IEP. Basically, local school boards were overriding
the decisions made by IEP teams.
In 1997, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil
Rights (OCR) received a complaint charging the New Mexico Public
Education Department with discriminatory practices by allowing local
school boards to override IEP team decisions in the area of awarding
diplomas to students with disabilities. To address the inequities
in graduation practices, the Public Education Department formed
a task force that included advocates and parents, state-level consultants,
regular and special educators, and other state agencies. I served
on the task force representing district-level special educators.
Our district served as a pilot district for the implementation of
pathways. During year two, our dropout rate decreased and our graduation
rate improved for students with disabilities. The goals of the task
force were to bring consistency to graduation practices and procedures
across the state, protect the integrity of the diploma, improve
IEP team accountability, provide guidelines for curriculum development,
and improve compliance with IDEA transition requirements. The diploma
provides access to employment, training programs, military options,
and higher education. We know that individuals who do not receive
the diploma run the risk of becoming incarcerated and institutionalized.
The IEP team determines the most appropriate pathway based upon
student needs and the impact of the disability. In the IEP, the
team must document the rationale for selecting a particular pathway,
and review and update goals and objectives annually. The IEP team
is also responsible for verifying that the student achieved all
program goals and objectives leading to graduation and the receipt
of a high school diploma. Typically the 8th grade IEP team discusses
graduation plans for the transition to high school and develops
the multi-year program based on the student’s strengths, needs,
preferences, and postschool goals. These plans must be a part of
the student's IEP. Students are able to earn their high school diploma
by following one of three pathways.
The standard pathway is a program of
study based upon meeting and surpassing all requirements for graduation
as identified in the New Mexico Standards of Excellence, with or
without reasonable modification of delivery and assessment method.
The IEP team selects required courses and electives based on the
student's postschool goals. If the IEP team chooses a pathway other
than the standard, the team must provide documentation for selecting
the career readiness or ability pathway.
The career readiness pathway is a program
of study based upon meeting the State Board of Education’s
Career Readiness Standards with Benchmarks as defined in the IEP.
The career readiness pathway takes into account the individual student’s
interest, career preference, and needs, and allows for the substitution
of classes as appropriate. The IEP team must use the IEP to document
mastery of the career readiness standards and benchmarks.
The ability pathway is a program of
study based upon meeting or surpassing IEP goals and objectives
and reference skill attainment at a student’s ability level
which may lead to meaningful employment. The IEP team designs the
ability pathway to meet the student’s needs. Typically, IEP
teams develop the ability pathway for students with severe cognitive
and/or physical disabilities or students with severe mental health
challenges. The ability pathway varies from the standard high school
Departures from the standard program of study for students with
disabilities must be considered in the order listed. Any modified
program of study may depart from the standard program only as far
as necessary to meet the individual student’s education needs
as determined by the IEP team.
The receipt of a diploma terminates the service eligibility of
students with disabilities. All diplomas awarded by a school district
must be identical in appearance, content, and affect, except that
symbols or notations may be added to individual diplomas to reflect
official school honors or awards earned by students.
As I mentioned before, New Mexico is one of many states with a
high stakes graduation exam. Prior to 2003, students on the career
readiness and ability pathways were required to participate in all
state and local district testing, meeting the requirements of IDEA.
In 2003, the State Board of Education made changes to the pathways
regulations regarding the graduation exam. In addition to the previously
mentioned requirements, students on the career readiness and ability
pathways must take the current state graduation examination(s) and
achieve a level of competency to be determined by the IEP team in
order to earn a standard diploma. The current exit exam does not
provide the IEP teams with enough information and using the results
of the exam makes it difficult to determine the targeted proficiency
level. We did contact and request guidance from the test company
but they have not be able to provide us with information that would
support IEP teams in making realistic decisions. New Mexico is in
the process of replacing the current exam with a standards-based
assessment which will provide specific information to assist IEP
teams to establish realistic targeted proficiency scores.
At the exit IEP meeting for students graduating on the career readiness
or ability pathways, IEP teams must confirm and document that the
student has met all requirements for graduation. A building administrator
must be a member of the team and sign specifically to verify and
accept the completed graduation plan. IEP teams must also determine
whether additional evaluations, reports, or documents are necessary
to support a smooth and effective transition to postsecondary services
for a student who will graduate on the career readiness or ability
pathway. The school will arrange for such information to be provided
at no cost to the student or his/her parents.
IEP teams may use a certificate with a follow-up plan of transition
when a student has completed the high school portion of his/her
education and is on track for graduation but continues to have transition
needs that must be addressed by school staff and adult service providers
together. The certificate with a follow-up plan allows the student
to participate in graduation activities and continue to work toward
obtaining the high school diploma. The certificate does not end
the student’s right to a FAPE. The student receives his/her
diploma upon successful completion of the IEP goals and transition
outcomes. The certificate of transition should not be confused with
a certificate of completion. The certificate of completion is no
longer used for students with disabilities in New Mexico.
The pathways regulations mirror IDEA 1997. Successful implementation
requires IEP teams to be knowledgeable of the transition requirements
of IDEA, the graduation requirements for all students, the pathways
requirements, and the next step requirements. The next step requirements
require all students in grades 8-11 to prepare an interim next step
plan which sets forth the coursework for the grades remaining in
high school. This annual multi-year plan must be based on the student’s
postschool goals. Students in the 12th grade must complete a final
next-step plan prior to graduation. This plan must show that the
student is committed or intends to commit in the near future to
a four-year college or university, a two-year college, a trade or
vocational program, an internship or apprenticeship, military service,
or a job. An IEP that meets all transition and procedural requirements
of IDEA satisfies the next step requirement for students with disabilities.
MRS. STENHJEM: Any questions?
MALE SPEAKER: I am from the state of Idaho and
I am just curious in this pathway process through the years, how
did DVR participate or how did you partner with them on some of
this decision-making for some of the disabled students or did they?
MRS. GRONEWOLD: We did have representatives from
DVR on the task force. Districts have worked with DVR with students
on the career readiness pathway. An example would be DVR purchasing
training materials and providing job placement related to the training
materials; the school would be responsible for providing instruction
using the training materials. We have had some discussion with the
DVR Assistant Secretary of Education about the need to have counselors
attending IEPs when decisions about changing pathways are being
MRS. RUDDELE: This is Karen from West Virginia,
and I work with the Department of Education. My question is about
students taking vocational educational courses. If you have a student
who is focusing on a particular cluster, do you have to end the
course program or end of problem test for that, and then what measures
have you taken regarding how that student earns a certificate or
even a credential in the field?
MRS. GRONEWOLD: The career readiness pathway
is individualized to meet the needs of a student. The alternative
courses could be on-the-job training, vocational courses offered
by the district, or a combination of both. The career readiness
pathway is the multi-year plan of the courses the student will take.
If a student with a disability is in a district that provides options
for students to focus on a particular cluster, the student would
have the same opportunities as students without disabilities to
earn a certificate or credential in a field.
FEMALE SPEAKER: I have a question about dealing
with the four graduate requirements and also with chances for students
to graduate in four years. How did you deal with that?
MRS. GRONEWOLD: IEP teams are required to inform
parents and students of consequences that may result from changing
a student’s pathway from the standard path. Students on the
career pathway must meet the district's minimum credit requirements.
The credits will be a combination of both standard and alternative
courses. Most of the students on the ability pathway are those who
Graduation plans must be a part of all IEPs beginning in the 8th
grade and there should be discussion about number of credits, passing
the exit exam, and if the student is on target to graduate with
MRS. PARKER: My name is Donna Parker from the
Tennessee State Department of Education. Just to clarify, once the
state has made the career readiness pathway and the ability pathway,
are those departments identical to any other department and there
is no reference to any alternative program?
MRS. GRONEWOLD: No, there is no reference—the
diploma is the same. New Mexico’s graduation regulation states
that all diplomas must look the same, and the only distinguishing
marks that can be on the diploma are for honor students.
MRS. STENHJEM: More questions? Okay, it sounds
like we are at the end of our call. Again I would like to thank
our presenter, Sue Gronewold, for sharing such a great model with
us and providing such useful information. We really appreciate your
time and expertise, Sue.
MRS. GRONEWOLD: Thank you.
MRS. STENHJEM: And we will have a transcript
of this call on our Web site as soon as possible at http://www.ncset.org/.
Our next teleconference call will be October 28 at 2:00 CST, the
presenter will be Dr. Kris Webb of the University of North Florida,
and she will be presenting on “Dare to Dream for Adults.”
I think that’s it. Thank you being on the call, and have a
great day everyone.
END OF TELECONFERENCE
^ Top of Page ^