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Change to alternate diploma may let more students graduate high school

Students in red and white graduation robes walk across a field in front of a stadium full of people.
Alisha Referda
Indiana lawmakers are allowing more students with disabilities to graduate with the state's alternate diploma.

A change to Indiana’s law governing the alternate diploma will let more students with disabilities graduate high school. The change will affect school districts throughout the state, but it will have the biggest impact in some of the state’s smallest schools.

Indiana’s alternate diploma is meant for students who have significant cognitive disabilities. They were first available to the class of 2023, but organizations like the Indiana School Boards Association said they were not fully utilized because of a law that restricted their use.

Before the law was changed, no more than 1 percent of a graduating class could graduate with the alternate diploma. That meant some schools with very small class sizes couldn’t count any students who earned an alternate diploma toward their graduation rate.

The ISBA urged lawmakers to change the law this year because it, “unfairly penalizes school corporations with small graduating classes,” according to a document shared by the association.

READ MORE: State lawmakers share their thoughts on this year's education bills

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Lawmakers listened. The change was included as part of HEA 1243. Starting July 1, small schools can allow one student to graduate with an alternate diploma, even if that student makes up more than 1 percent of the graduating class.

The effect on small schools and their students could be significant. According to a Ball State University study, 20 percent of Indiana’s school corporations had fewer than 1,000 students in 2022. Some of those corporations were not able to award an alternate diploma under the previous law.

Next year, students at those schools who would not have been able to graduate last year could receive their high school diplomas under the new provision.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.