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Apr 8, 2014 4:19 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Preparing For Special Education Credential

Apr 8, 2014 4:19 PM

After doing away with the Individualized Education Program diploma last June, the New York State Department of Education has implemented a new credential aimed at better preparing special education students for entry-level employment upon graduation. It will be available for students graduating as early as this June.

The Career Development and Occupational Studies Commencement Credential is a certificate that classified special education students can receive upon graduation in addition to or in place of a Regents or local diploma, according to the New York State Department of Education’s website.

Prior to the 2013-14 school year, special education students could graduate with an Individualized Education Program diploma, which showed a student’s educational achievement based on his or her individual IEP, according to the website.

But despite its name, the IEP diploma was not recognized as the equivalent of a traditional high school diploma, nor did it offer students much opportunity after high school.

“All the testimony was that it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on,” said Roger Tilles, the Nassau and Suffolk representative to the New York State Education Department Board of Regents. “It promised parents and students something that wasn’t there. Colleges wouldn’t accept it, the Army wouldn’t accept it. It wasn’t worth anything,” said Mr. Tilles.

The new credential attempts to fill those voids, Mr. Tilles said. The CDOS will be recognized by the Board of Regents as a certificate that proves a student has the “knowledge and skills necessary for entry level employment.” However, as with the IEP diploma, students applying to community colleges with the CDOS commencement credential as their only graduation credential must enter as non-matriculated students.

The CDOS also offers students an opportunity to graduate with real-life work experience, tasking schools with transition planning and providing “career exploration…work and community-based learning” for students who choose this track. As of now, there are two students in the East Hampton School District who have opted for the CDOS credential, according to Cindy Allentuck, the district’s director of pupil personnel services.

While the new opportunity for special education students will arguably put them at an advantage, administrators in East Hampton have voiced some concerns about its implementation.

“There’s a ton of legwork that has to be done for this,” said East Hampton High School’s special education coordinator, John Yeager. “There’s a lot of paperwork that’s been thrown at us to document every aspect of that CDOS piece. It’s not just giving them [the students] a credential; it’s all the documentation that must be generated in addition to that.”

The CDOS tasks schools with providing “effective transition planning and services,” including an assessment of “realistic” post-secondary goals, helping students participate in “career exploration and work,” among other things. This path starts as early as middle school, according to the website.

When asked if the extra paperwork could potentially require another staff member—and thus an addition to the school’s already-tight, over-tax-levy-capped budget—Mr. Yeager said that for now, he and a few other staff members are “taking the bull by its horns” to get the preliminary work done.

Because many of the credential’s qualifications require hands-on internship and work experience, East Hampton’s geography and seasonal businesses pose additional problems for creating opportunities.

“We’re sort of limited because of where we are,” said Ms. Allentuck. “If we were somewhere in Nassau County, or in a more urban environment, there may be more opportunities for kids. But we live in a seasonal community where in the winter, it’s pretty slow and there isn’t much work.”

While the Department of Education’s website states that the CDOS is meant to better prepare students for entry-level work, it is still highly recommended that students receive another type of diploma as well, leaving it up to the school to provide “appropriate opportunities” to do so.

“We’re really trying to encourage students to do both,” said Mr. Tilles. “This way they’ll have the diploma as well as a list of career-based skills that employers will be searching for. It’s worth far more than the IEP diploma.”

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