Special Education Graduation Information & Guidance

Definition of a Regular High School Diploma

The Iowa State Board of Education amended Iowa’s special education rules related to the graduation of individuals eligible for special education and the definition of a regular high school diploma. The state made these changes to be consistent with the required language in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The change means it will no longer be permissible to award a regular high school diploma based solely on IEP goal attainment. The term “regular high school diploma” must be fully aligned to State-required standards. In Iowa, the minimum graduation requirements are:

  • four years of English
  • three years of math
  • three years of social studies
  • three years of science
  • and completion of the local school district’s expectations for physical education (PE)

Often referred to as 4-3-3-3 or ‘four triple three’

To earn a regular high school diploma, all students, including students with disabilities, must meet the District’s graduation requirements, which include 4-3-3-3 and the completion of PE, in addition to any services required to receive a FAPE (i.e., goal completion).

When did this change go into effect?

The application of these graduation requirements began in 2018 with the 9th-grade cohort (Class of 2022).

How this Impacts Students with Disabilities

  • It is the expectation that the majority of special education students will be able to meet the 4-3-3-3 requirements. It is the IEP team’s responsibility, beginning in 8th grade to develop a pathway to 4-3-3-3 that meets your student’s unique needs and results in a regular high school diploma.
  • The District will consider the continuum of services provided for students and develop processes that ensure alignment of the continuum to the 4-3-3-3.
  • With careful consideration of each student’s capabilities, strengths, and interests, the IEP team will determine if accommodations and/or modifications are needed to meet graduation requirements.
  • The IEP team will ensure that the plan created has high expectations for learning that align with your student’s post-secondary expectations.
  • Progress toward completion of 4-3-3-3 will be communicated at least annually in the course of study section of your student’s IEP. The IEP team can choose to establish more frequent reporting to ensure timely completion of requirements and revision or provision of new supports. Your student’s IEP team will need to design processes to measure progress toward meeting 4-3-3-3, and communicate that progress with you and your student.
  • The IEP team determines what constitutes FAPE for each student based on the unique needs of that student. Students who have a special education need and who have not received a regular high school diploma are eligible for FAPE until age 21. A student may use this time to continue to work towards meeting 4-3-3-3 requirements.

Actions Steps for Families

  1. Communicate with your student’s IEP team about your district’s graduation requirements/policies and how they apply to your student.
  2. Work with the IEP team to identify what your student might need to meet graduation requirements, including consideration of accommodations and/or modifications.
  3. Maintain high expectations for your student’s progress toward challenging goals and needed services, and when needed, advocate for this in the IEP.
  4. Consider what your student wants to do after high school and what is needed to prepare them for working towards their goals.
  5. Keep in mind that every student’s path to graduation may look different and should be individualized based on their unique needs and goals.
  6. Work with your student’s IEP team to determine how frequently you want to be informed of progress towards graduation requirements.
  7. Keep in mind that special education students, like all students, have a range of interest and investment in their high school efforts. Special education students should not be held to a higher standard than their peers.
  8. When you are unsure and need support, reach out to available resources to help you navigate through this process.

Additional Resources for Families

One of the best resources for you and your student is the IEP team. This is a great place to start by working through specific questions and concerns. In addition to IEP team members, families can always contact their local Family and Educator Partnership (FEP) coordinator and/or ASK Resource Center.

Family and Educator Partnership (FEP) ‘Supports effective partnerships between families & educator to promote success for all children and youth with disabilities.’ Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) have FEP Coordinators who are available to help address questions and provide support to families and educators. To connect with your local AEA and FEP Coordinators, contact the Northwest AEA at (800) 352-9040.

ASK Resource Center ‘Iowa’s parent training, information, and advocacy center for families.’ ASK is an additional resource you can contact. Phone: (515) 243-1713 Toll-free: (800) 450-8667 Email: info@askresource.org