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Education Department, LDA at odds over skills credential program

According to the New York Education Department, there are currently 400,000 students who have learning disabilities. Of those 400,000, one in five has a severe disability. In an effort to help these students finish high school, the Education Department has, in the past, offered an Individualized Education Program. The IEP, however, does not count as a high school diploma, meaning those students who want to go to college must pass the GED first.

This summer, New York will be phasing out the IEP, and other ideas for helping disabled students graduate are being put on the table. One of those ideas is the Career Skills Credential. The program's purpose it to help students with severe disabilities obtain the skills needed to get entry-level jobs after high school. Like the IEP, completing the program would not be recognized as earning a high school diploma.

Reactions to the Career Skills Credential program have been decidedly mixed in the community. The deputy commissioner for adult career and continuing education services says the program would give students a pathway toward meeting "reasonable goals."

The Learning Disabilities Association, however, is opposed to the program, calling it "segregating" and "stigmatizing." Its director argues that a safety net, as he sees the Career Skills Credential program, is not what will best help disabled students. He says giving disabled students an easier curriculum than other students will not benefit them in the long run. The Board of Regents will vote on the matter in March. It will be interesting to see what they decide.

Disabled students deserve to get a good education like every other student in New York does. Unfortunately, the government and others have not yet been able to come up with a system that works well for these students. Hopefully disability advocates will continue to seek ways to empower the many students in New York whose disabilities make traditional learning more challenging.

Source: Albany Times-Union, "Skills credential may aid disabled students," Scott Waldman, Dec. 11, 2012

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