A study into students with disabilities and alternate diploma options

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This chapter will summarize the literature that was researched concerning students with disabilities and alternate diploma options. It will also discuss the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA) which are the laws that protect disabled students. Finally, the literature will explain the impact of transition training on the success of students with disabilities in the postsecondary setting.

The literature offered in this review is obtained from several EBSCO databases including Dissertations & Theses: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection and Education Research Complete. In addition, several Federal websites were used that will provide key statistics. Keywords that were beneficial to obtaining research information were students with disabilities, postsecondary education, diploma options, transition services, colleges, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and special needs students; these terms were used in various combinations.

Problem Statement

The high school diploma has always been viewed as necessary to be successful in the future. It has opened doors for admission to college, the military, and high paying jobs (O'Neil, 2001). The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) have opened doors for students with disabilities. As a matter of fact, between the years of 1987 and 2003 there was a 17% increase in the number of students with disabilities that graduated from high school (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine, 2005). This has caused an increase in the number of learning disabled students that are enrolled in college. According to the U.S. National Council of Disability's 2004 Higher Education Fact Sheet, a total of 10% of the college population being learning disabled students. In addition, due to their lack of postsecondary training, they are more likely not to complete college and obtain their degrees. Although enrollment of students with disabilities has increased at the postsecondary level, there is still a concern that many of these students who obtain alternate certificates or diplomas are not recognized as high school graduates by the postsecondary institutions thus preventing them from enrolling and continuing their education Erickson (2009) .

Purpose Statement

It is important to explore the consequences that students with disabilities face when they receive alternate certificates and Individual Education Plan (IEP) diplomas in lieu of a regular high school diploma. There has been an increase in diploma options in the last 30 years (Guy, Shin, Lee, & Thurlow, 1999). Many students are opting to graduate from high school and continue their education through some type of postsecondary institution.

Research Questions

There are more students attending postsecondary institutions now than ever before (Butler, 2009). This holds true for students with disabilities also. Students with disabilities, who graduate with an alternate diploma option or certificate, are finding it more difficult to continue their education through more traditional means than their non-disable counterparts (Erickson, 2009). In addition, many of the students with disabilities lack the level of self advocacy skills that they need to succeed in a postsecondary institution (Butler, 2009). It is important to take into account the perceptions of the providers of support to disabled students because they can make the transition from secondary to postsecondary education much smoother for students with disabilities (Guzman, 2009). After knowing this it is imperative that the following questions be researched further:

What are the reported experiences of students with disabilities who participated in learning experience?

How did the students' alternative curriculum in high school affect their admission into college and their success rate once admitted?


This study will explore the laws that govern students with disabilities in education. Due to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), there are an increasing number of special needs students attending postsecondary institutions (Carney, Ginsberg, Lee, Li, Orr, Parks, et. al, 2007). In addition, some students with disabilities have IEP diplomas and many postsecondary institutions do not recognize these diplomas as being valid (Erickson, 2009). Finally, learning disabled students who do attend postsecondary institutions, generally lack the capacity to adequately self advocate for themselves (Villaneuva, 2009).

The Erickson (2009) article is based on the fact that some states offer alternative certifications and IEP diplomas for students. For purposes of this study, the IEP diploma will be the focus of this paper. Many students who receive IEP diplomas are not as successful as students who do not. These students rarely attend college and are not afforded the same type of employment opportunities as students who receive regular standard diplomas. Alternative diplomas are considered less rigorous academically therefore many employers and higher education institutions do not recognize these diplomas.

According to the National Council on Disability 2004 Higher Education Factsheet, students with disabilities attending higher education institutions lack self advocacy skills, and the knowledge of how their disability will impact their education. Many of these students do not realize how to negotiate their services on the postsecondary level. Prior to the enactment of the ADA of 1990, there was limited support for students with disabilities who attended postsecondary institutions (Milsom & Hartley, 2005). However, the ADA allowed students with disabilities to more access to higher education and learning disabled students were afforded the support services of the Disability Support Services Department (McCleary-Jones, 2008). However, it is the students' responsibility to identify themselves as a student with a disability. This is much different from their secondary experience where it was the schools' responsibility to not only identify the student as having a disability; but provide the necessary support is automatically afforded under the IDEA (National Center on Secondary Education and Transition

Institute on Community Integration, 2009).

This study will be conducted by finding a sample of students who graduated from high school with an IEP diploma and asking them open ended interview questions. These students will be found by contacting the Independent Living Resource Center (ILRC) and the local school board's transitions services office for help. The ILRC is a local disability support service who not only helps adults with disabilities, but has a transition services program for high school students. This support service also tracks the postsecondary progress of the students in their program. In addition, the school board may have some type of instrument in place to track the progress of graduates.

Diploma Options

In 2007 all 50 states and the District of Columbia offered alternate certificates or diplomas to students (National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) Policy Direction, 2000). Most states offer other diploma options other than the standard diploma. Additionally, six states offered IEP diplomas. These diplomas are usually exclusive to students who have individual education plans and the graduation requirements can be individualized towards the students' needs (NCSET Information Brief, 2005). IEP diplomas recognize that students with disabilities may need to work on different standards; however, IEP diplomas do not give the students access to the general curriculum. It is for these reasons that many postsecondary institutions do not accept these diplomas. According to Erickson (2009), many postsecondary institutions equate the IEP diploma to dropping out of school. Most colleges and universities are only interested in students that graduate with a regular high school diploma or GED. Some community colleges do allow for students with disabilities to enroll in remedial courses or GED programs in order to prepare them for regular coursework (Erickson, 2009). In this study the admission policies of 22 colleges and universities from two states were reviewed, and it was found that there was a difference in interpretation of the wording 'open admission'. In one state, open admission referred to any adult student; in the other state the same phrase referred to any adult student with a standard diploma. This is very relevant because it shows that students that graduate with alternate diplomas have a difficult time being admitted into a college or university.Self-advocacy

One of the main reasons that students with disabilities have such a difficult time when transitioning from secondary to postsecondary settings is that the expectations placed on the student change drastically. The student can no longer rely on the institution being responsible for services that the student needs; in the postsecondary setting the student now bears full responsibility of ensuring that they receive the services or adjustments that they need (Exner, 2009). According to Butler (2009) the parents and teachers on the secondary level tend to be overly protective and make decisions for the student; they do not always include the student in decisions about his or her future. The students with disabilities who are admitted into postsecondary institutions have shown to have a problem self advocating for themselves (Villanueva, 2009). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 requires secondary schools to provide transition training to students with disabilities (Morninstar & Liss, 2004). The Lindstrom (2009) article looked at the barriers that students with disabilities are faced with when attending postsecondary institutions. According to Lindstrom (2009), some students with disabilities were unaware of the support services that were available to them on the postsecondary level. In addition, Lindstrom (2009) recognized that some students did not have enough confidence in their own skills to properly advocate for themselves on the postsecondary level. Furthermore, students with disabilities were overwhelmed with the whole enrollment process. They were not prepared for the amount of paperwork that was involved and some of them decided not to complete the enrollment process. Of the students who are found to be successful while attending college, many of them found that the students felt that 78% of the students sited support from their peers as their reasoning for being successful; also 72% stated that their professors were the reason they were so successful (Villanueva, 2009).

The Fritton (2009), study was a survey of Disability Support Services (DSS); this study found that students with disabilities on the postsecondary level are more informed about their options. They are able to advocate for themselves more now than they have been in the past. Many of the students have a positive perception of their disability and are more apt to declare that they have a disability and ask for the accommodations that come along with that.

In conclusion, students with disabilities face more challenges when attending postsecondary institutions than their non-disabled counterparts (Fritton, 2009; Villanueva, 2009; Butler, 2009; Erickson, 2009). It is important for a learning disabled student to understand the legislation that is behind the protections that they receive. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004 provide for learning disabled students on the secondary and the postsecondary levels. On the secondary level the IDEA provides that school districts provide the students with transition training and requires that graduating students receive a summary of performance that outlines their strengths and weaknesses. This legislation also provides that students be involved in their Individual Education Plans (IEP) beginning at the age of 14. Furthermore, students must identify postsecondary goals that are measureable (Morningstar & Liss, 2008). The ADA also offers adjustments in order for the student to be successful on the postsecondary level.

Before students can apply the benefits of the ADA on the postsecondary level, it is important for the student to understand the implications of the type of diploma that they are receiving. There are quite a few diploma options that are available; they range from the regular diploma all the way to the occupational diploma. Some states have an IEP diploma that is available to students with disabilities that have an IEP on file. The problem with this type of degree is that it often is given to learning disabled students who are being educated on an alternate curriculum. Many postsecondary institutions do not recognize these diplomas and equate them to dropping out of school (Erickson, 2009). Therefore students who obtain these types of diplomas are not able to attend most postsecondary institutions unless they go back to school and receive a regular high school diploma or GED first. This substantially limits their future because not only are they unable to attend college, but the military and some high paying jobs refuse to recognize this type of diploma either.

Furthermore, students with disabilities have traditionally had difficulty self advocating for themselves on the postsecondary level. This was due to the lack of cohesiveness between the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 2004. The IDEA has always required that services and accommodations be provided for students on the secondary level. In addition, the ADA has always required that students with disabilities could receive adjustments on the college level.

The IDEA was reinvented to require school districts to provide transition training. It also requires students to be more actively involved in the planning of their IEPs. In addition, students are now required to set postsecondary goals in the areas of education/training and employment. With these changes to IDEA students should be more capable of advocating for themselves on the postsecondary level. Recent studies have shown that learning disabled students are doing a better job of identifying themselves as having a disability, asking for the accommodations that they need, and feeling more confident.

The Erickson (2009) article supported the idea that students who graduate with alternate diplomas or certificates have a difficult time being admitted into colleges and university. They oftentimes have to take additional coursework and obtain additional certificates in order to continue their education. Oftentimes, once they are admitted with or without a standard diploma, they often lack the self advocacy skills that will allow them to be successful and obtain a degree (Villanueva, 2009; Butler, 2009; Fritton, 2009).