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Just like anyone else’s diploma

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A spread from Desert Companion's December story "Just like anyone else"

Desert Companion’s December feature "Just like anyone else(above) profiled a local program that helps adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities get job training and, in some cases, permanent employment. In it, UNLV Assistant Professor of Special Education Joshua Baker said: “The world is inclusive, so why do we separate them? … At 18, we talk about the least restrictive environment. I argue that’s college. So why do people with intellectual disabilities have to watch their peers go off to college while they’re not allowed?”

A critical barrier in Nevada, according to a recent report by the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, is the adjusted diploma. Basically a certificate of completion, this diploma prevents students from enlisting in some branches of the military and applying for federal financial aid, and deters some employers from considering them for jobs and job training, says the report, Pathways to Nowhere: Postsecondary Opportunities for Students with Disabilities.

It blames the adjusted diploma, in part, for Nevada’s dismal performance in educating and employing students with disabilities. In 2014-2015, only 29 percent of such students graduated, compared with 71.3 percent for all Nevada students. The gap between the two is the second largest in the country. According to the most recent data, only 28 percent of students with disabilities in Clark County graduated, and only 54 percent of them statewide were going to college or working within one year of leaving high school.

“The pathways in Nevada to successfully prepare students with intellectual disabilities for postsecondary opportunities are quite limited — meaning that there are significant gaps and barriers preventing students with disabilities for life beyond high school,” Guinn Center Executive Director Nancy Brune says in a news release. “Forty states in the United States have eliminated alternative pathways, such as Nevada’s adjusted diploma, for students with disabilities.”

The Guinn Center recommended legislation that would allow students with disabilities to receive standard diplomas, providing that their individualized education program teams determine that the students demonstrate proficiency in line with public school requirements. The Nevada Department of Education proposed the legislation as Assembly Bill 64, which was presented to the committee on education the first week of February. It’s awaiting a hearing. 

"So many teachers and other service providers are telling these kids that they can’t go to college, so they don’t even look for a college route, when they still can," Baker says. "Colleges are still going to accept you based on other things, such as ACT scores and writing samples, but (changing the diploma) can't hurt."

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