By Juliet D. Hiznay
A flurry of online discussions suggest that Virginia high school students and their families are confused about what verified credits are required to graduate with a Standard or an Advanced Studies Diploma in Virginia. This is partly due to legislative efforts to reduce the burdens of testing on public school teachers and students. Unfortunately, implementation of those legislative fixes will not help students who are currently in grades 10-12.
Hopefully this blog will clear the fog.
Dr. Sarah Susbury, Director of the Office of Student Assessment with the Virginia Department of Education was kind enough to share some information with me, which I will share here since parents and students still seem to be relatively “in the dark” and some staff as well.
For all students: Federal standards require that all students obtain a verified credit in mathematics during high school. This means that even if you passed an Algebra I course and the associated standards of learning test (SOL) during middle school, with our without credit accommodations, you must still take and pass an approved mathematics course and its associated SOL during high school.
For current 10-12 grade students seeking the Advanced Studies Diploma: Despite the fact that the Virginia General Assembly sought to reduce testing burdens on staff and students, the number of verified credits for an advanced studies diploma remains 9. This is truly unfortunate for many students who are on the cusp of obtaining such a diploma, but who have been unable to obtain verified credit. This seems contrary to the intent of the Virginia General Assembly. However, an effort to reduce these requirements would require the VDOE to pass regulations, an arduous process.
For all students seeking a Standard Diploma and those entering high school in 2018-19 or later seeking and Advanced Studies Diploma: The number of verified credits required to graduate from high school is 5. These include: one verified credit each in history, science, English 11, English 12 as well as one verified credit for an approved math course taken during high school.
Other graduation requirements include completion of two years of physical education, economics and personal finance, one virtual learning course and CPR, in addition to core courses and 3 electives. The Advanced Studies Diploma also has a specific foreign language requirement.
Students who qualify for special education services or 504 plans can seek credit accommodations in any subject they do not pass, as long as that credit accommodation is included in the individualized education program (IEP) or 504 Plan for the student. The process for obtaining approval for credit accommodations varies by school district, but requires the school district to provide remediation and the student to retake the SOL in question. In Alexandria and in Fairfax County, the IEP team is empowered to make the decision. In Arlington, the process is more cumbersome, since award of verified credits is reviewed by a committee including curriculum specialists. There are numerous avenues to obtain verified credit.
The Applied Studies Diploma does not require verified credits because the diploma does not require completion of grade level courses recognized by institutions of higher learning. This diploma is available only to students who receive special education services. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, any student who has not yet obtained a standard diploma has a legal right to continued high school education past their senior year, up to four additional years after the student turns 18. Once a student is 18, they are empowered to decide whether or not to continue their public school education and whether to continue special education services or 504 accommodations. The only exception is if a parent obtains legal guardianship over the adult student through a court order.
Long-term planning is recommended: Parents are well advised to begin thinking about the issue of high school graduation during elementary school. The less access a student has to the regular classroom and grade level or advanced content, the less likely they will complete high school with an Advanced Studies or Standard Diploma. This is true for students at risk of school discipline or court involvement, as well as for students with disabilities. During third grade, parents of students with disabilities might be asked to consent to the Virginia Alternative Assessment Program (VAAP). This is a very serious decision, the consequences of which are difficult to reverse. In theory, the VAAP does not prevent graduating with a real diploma. However, it is not a path to graduation with an Advanced Studies or Standard Diploma because it is not based upon grade level expectations. Typically students who are on the VAAP are not included in any general education core courses. It is reserved for students with significant cognitive deficits. Most students can access the general education curriculum with the support of special education services, related services and accommodations, so removal from the general education setting places students at significant risk of not graduating. Students who can perform at or near grade level in any subject should never be on the VAAP. Being on the VAAP means who cannot sit for any SOLs.
Creating a plan for graduation is essential. All parents should work with their children to lay out a plan for graduation during Middle School. They should also track verified credits beginning in 9th grade to ensure that students graduate on time or as soon as possible thereafter, with the diploma of their choice. When parents and students run into a road block, it never hurts to call VDOE to find out whether there are solutions that the local team has not considered.
Juliet Hiznay is an education attorney serving families in Northern Virginia. More information about her practice is available at jdhiznay.com.
This blog is for your general information only, and is not meant to be legal advice. Graduation requirements are highly fact dependent. For legal advice, consult an attorney.