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More than a Statistic: Faces of the Local Diploma

October 1, 2010

In 2009, 14.5 percent of students in New York State graduated high school with a local diploma. The State is in the process of phasing out the local diploma as an option, requiring students to achieve the more rigorous Regents diploma or drop out and seek their General Educational Development (GED) diploma. For now, students with disabilities have the additional possibility of leaving school with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) diploma, which is basically a certificate of achievement that carries few of the benefits of the other graduation credentials. Policy makers reason that without the local diploma to fall back on, schools will push harder to prepare more students to qualify for the Regents diploma and thereby graduate young adults who are better equipped to succeed in higher education and the job market. What will happen to the young people who previously depended on the local diploma to graduate from high school? Will they be able to achieve the more challenging Regents diploma? Or will they be left behind? And would they have derived any benefit from the local diploma in the first place? In this paper, we explore the potential loss of opportunity that individual students are likely to experience as a result of the phasing out of the local diploma. We first explain the current diploma options available in New York State and identify the demographic profile for each type of diploma. We then provide a closer look at nine students who graduated with a local diploma in recent years and what would have happened, from their perspectives, if the local diploma had not been available. We conclude by urging the State to develop pathways to graduation for struggling students, particularly students who are unable to pass the Regents exams.