Newsline Volume 32, Number 4

Preparing for Graduation

By Terri McLaughlin, Coordinator of Transition Projects at the Federation for Children with Special Needs

3 multi-racial high school girls in graduation caps & gownsHigh school graduation is an important milestone. Every student needs to be prepared as he or she exits secondary school and enters into the next phase of life and learning. Graduation is not a voluntary decision; a student must have met certain requirements to exit school with or without a state standard diploma. The following questions are very important for all parents of transition age students (14 -22 years) to consider.

  • What is the 'expected graduation date' noted on the last signed IEP and Transition Planning Form (TPF)?
  • What is the difference between a 'Certificate' and a state standard diploma?
  • Has the student passed MCAS and local district requirements?
  • Has the student received appropriate Transition assessments and transition services based on their post-school vision?

There are three requirements a student must meet to graduate with a state standard diploma. The first requirement is passing MCAS. Students must either earn a scaled score of at least 240 on the grade 10 MCAS ELA and Mathematics tests, or earn a scaled score between 220 and 238 on these tests and fulfill the requirements of an Educational Proficiency Plan (EPP). Students must also earn a scaled score of at least 220 on one of the high school MCAS Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) tests: Biology, Chemistry, Introductory Physics, or Technology/Engineering. The second requirement is passing all local requirements in your city or town. Contact your high school or school committee to find out what they are. The third is receiving appropriate and individualized Transition services based on a student's vision for his or her future. Additionally, students must be informed of their expected graduation date (in their IEP) one year prior to that date. Their expected graduation date is the year that the student's entitlement to special education services will end.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that mandates that students with disabilities receive "Transition Services." According to the United States Congress, the purpose of IDEA is to ensure that the unique needs of students with disabilities are met so that they will be prepared for further education, employment, and independent living as adults. Because all students in special education are eligible to have results oriented Transition goals and services, understanding the Transition process is critical to getting the most out of your child's education. Beginning when the student is 14 years old, schools must document progress toward Transition goals every year in the IEP. For students 18-22, special education supports and learning opportunities should be based in the community so the student will be prepared for a smooth transition to full participation and a meaningful adult life in the community.

If a student has not received Transition services based on their vision during their period of entitlement (age 14-22) they may continue to be eligible for special education and receive Transition services through the IEP process. If graduation is challenged on that basis, parents should immediately notify the child's school, in writing, that they are rejecting the diploma and rejecting the IEP because the student has not received Transition services. This letter should be sent along with the rejected IEP to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals.

It is important to note that this type of challenge will require good solid information and current Transition assessments. In Massachusetts, the Quabbin and Dracut decisions are two precedent setting Transition cases that are very important to review. In each instance they clearly identify the scope and purpose of Transition in IDEA.

Begin the Transition journey early. As new ideas and educational opportunities evolve, new skills emerge and help shed new light on the student's vision and future plans. Partner with your student and school Team to create a meaningful individualized Transition plan. A good transition plan can help prepare all students to graduate ready to follow their dreams.


Terri McLaughlin coordinates the Transition Projects at the Federation. She organizes transition workshops and provides technical assistance for parents and professionals. Terri also runs 'Planning A Life', a two day Transition conference three times each school year. You can reach her at 617-236-7210 x336 or at