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Promotion, Retention, and Grading

Frequently asked questions from the field regarding the promotion, retention, and grading of students with disabilities.

Promotion and Retention of Students with Disabilities

  1. May students with disabilities be retained?

Yes, students with disabilities may be retained; however, careful consideration in the development, implementation, and revision of the student’s individualized education program (IEP) should prevent student failure in most cases.

“Research indicates that neither grade retention nor social promotion (the practice of promoting students with their same age-peers although they have not mastered current grade level content) is likely to enhance a child’s learning. Research and common sense both indicate that simply having a child repeat a grade is unlikely to address the problems a child is experiencing.”

  1. Do local governing board-adopted standards for promotion apply to students with disabilities?

Local governing board adopted standards for promotion apply to students with disabilities; however, IEP teams should consider whether the student’s disability adversely impacts the student’s potential for learning or rate of learning. If so, the IEP teams should consider whether accommodations or curricular modifications can minimize this impact.

  1. Are individualized promotion standards determined by the location where services are provided to students with disabilities?

No, for example, a student with significant disabilities who spends all or most of the instructional day in general education classrooms learning social or communication skills may have individualized promotion standards. Yet, a student with emotional or behavioral disabilities who spends most or part of the instructional day in a more restrictive environment may be held to the regular promotion standards.

  1. What if a student with a disability fails to meet board-adopted or individualized promotion standards?

If a student with a disability fails to meet board-adopted or individualized promotion standards, the IEP team should reconvene immediately to consider the following:

  • Is the current IEP for the student's academic, linguistic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs appropriate?
  • Is the manner of assessment appropriate, including accommodations and modifications identified in the IEP?
  • Were all the services required by the student to make progress in the general education curriculum appropriately identified in the student's IEP?
  • Were the linguistic needs of English Learners appropriately identified?
  • Did the student receive all the services identified in the IEP?
  • Was the assessment conducted consistent with the IEP?
  • Was the student's promotion standard appropriate and clarified in the IEP?
  1. What if the IEP was written to consider the student’s individualized needs, but the student still failed to meet the promotion standards?

If the questions in item #5 above were answered positively, but the student still failed to meet the promotion standards, then the student should participate in intensive supplemental instruction developed by the local board pursuant to Education Code 37252.2 – 37252.8. The IEP team should document all the supports and related services the student will need to benefit from supplemental instruction.

If after intensive supplemental instruction, the student still does not meet the board-adopted or individualized promotion standards, an IEP meeting should be held to develop an appropriate plan to support student progress.

If the questions in item #4 were answered in the negative, the IEP team should determine why such supports were not provided, develop an alternate plan, amend the IEP, provide intensive supplemental instruction, and consider not retaining the student because the district did not provide the supports and services necessary for the student to benefit from the educational program.

  1. May students with disabilities participate in intensive supplemental instruction pursuant to Education Code 37252.2 – 37252.8 and Extended School Year (ESY) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) simultaneously?

Yes, a student may participate in the two programs simultaneously, but only if the need for supplemental instruction is documented in the student’s IEP. In order to receive both services, ESY and supplemental instruction, the IEP must reflect that the student needs to participate in an intensive supplemental instruction program as part of the ESY services necessary for the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE). In other words, the student is receiving supplemental instruction in order to meet the standards-based goals of the IEP, and special education and related services will be provided in order for the student to benefit from that instruction.

Grades, Report Cards, and Transcripts for Students with Disabilities

  1. Should a student’s grade reflect that accommodations have been made for that student to access the general education curriculum?

No. A student’s grade should not reflect that accommodations have been made. Accommodations provide students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in the general education curriculum.
An accommodation is a change in the course, standard, test preparation, location, timing, scheduling, expectation, student response, or other attributes that provides access for a student with a disability to participate in a course, standard or test, and it does not fundamentally alter or lower the standard or expectation of the course, standard or test.

  1. May a student’s grade reflect that modifications have been made for that student to access the general education curriculum?

Yes. If modifications have been made to the curriculum of any course, it is important that the student’s grade reflect the student’s achievement in the modified curriculum, as long as modified grades are available to all students. However, any modifications to programming, instruction, and grading must be documented in the student’s IEP and be directly related to the student’s disability. To automatically give modified grades to all special education students would be discriminatory and potentially violate Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

A modification is a change in the course, standard, test preparation, location, timing, scheduling, expectation, student response, or other attribute that provides access for a student with a disability to participate in a course, standard or test, and it does fundamentally alter or lower the standard or expectation of the course, standard or test.

  1. May some type of symbol or code be used on a student’s report card to indicate that the student has had a modified curriculum in the general education classroom?

Yes. A symbol or code may be used on a student’s report card to indicate that the student has had a modified curriculum in the general education classroom. However, this type of coding should not be used solely for students with disabilities. A policy should be developed that applies to all students.

  1. May pass/fail grades be used for students with disabilities in the general education classroom?

Yes. A student with disabilities may be given a pass/fail grade as long as participation in this grading system is voluntary and is available to all students. In addition, the grading system must meet the student’s special needs and must be documented in the IEP.

  1. May a report card for a student with a disability identify Special Education or other related services or resources being provided for that student or otherwise indicate that the student has a disability? For example, may the report card refer to an IEP or a plan providing for services under Section 504?

Yes. Report cards are provided to parents to indicate their child’s progress or level of achievement in specific classes, course content, or curriculum. Consistent with this purpose, it would be permissible under Section 504 and Title II for a report card to indicate that a student is receiving special education or related services, as long as the report card informs parents about their child’s progress or level of achievement in specific classes, course content, or curriculum. For instance, a report card for a student with a disability may refer to an IEP or a plan for providing services under Section 504 in order to report on the student’s progress on the specific goals in the IEP or plan developed under Section 504.

However, the mere designation that a student has an IEP or is receiving a related service, without any meaningful explanation of the student’s progress, such as a grade or other evaluative standard established by an LEA and/or SEA, would be inconsistent with IDEA’s periodic reporting requirements, as well as with Section 504 and Title II. Under Section 504 and Title II, in general, the LEA must provide students with disabilities report cards that are as informative and effective as the report cards provided for students without disabilities. See 34 C.F.R. § 104.4(b)(1)(i)-(iv) and 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(1)(i)-(iv). Without more meaningful information, a report card that indicates only special education status provides the student with a disability with a benefit or service that is different from and not as informative and effective as the benefit or service that is provided through the report card for students without disabilities.

  1. May a report card for a student with a disability distinguish between special education programs and services and general education curriculum classes through specific notations or the use of asterisks or other symbols?

In general, yes. LEAs frequently distinguish between general education curriculum classes and other types of programs and classes, such as advanced placement, honors, or remedial classes. Making similar distinctions on report cards would be consistent with the general requirements of Section 504 and Title II that individuals with disabilities may not unnecessarily be treated differently than individuals without disabilities. See 34 C.F.R. § 104.4(b)(1)(i)-(iv) and 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(1)(i)-(iv). Under Section 504 and Title II, in order to properly reflect the progress of a student with a disability in a modified or alternate education curriculum, an LEA may distinguish between special education programs and services provided under a modified or alternate education curriculum and regular education classes under the general education curriculum on the student’s report card. For instance, where a student’s IEP calls for a modified tenth grade literature curriculum to be provided through the special education program, it would be appropriate for the report card to indicate that the student’s progress was measured based on the modified education curriculum. This distinction also may be achieved by using an asterisk or other symbol meant to reference the modified or alternate education curriculum as long as the statements on the report card, including the asterisks, symbols or other coding, provide an explanation of the student’s progress that is as informative and effective as the explanation provided for students without disabilities.

  1. May a report card for a student with a disability simply refer to another document that more fully describes the student’s progress?

Yes. Nothing in Section 504 or Title II requires that LEAs use any particular format or method to provide information to parents about their child’s progress or level of achievement in specific classes, course content, curriculum, IEP, or plan under Section 504. As explained above, under Section 504 and Title II, the LEA must provide students with disabilities report cards that are as informative and effective as the report cards provided to students without disabilities. As noted above, there are also IDEA-specific provisions that require periodic reporting.

  1. May report card grades for a student with a disability be based on grade level standards?

Yes. Assigning grades (i.e., achievement or “letter” grades) for a child with a disability based on the student’s grade level (i.e., year-in-school) standards would not be inconsistent with Section 504 or Title II. Generally, Section 504 and Title II would require that students with and without disabilities in the same regular education classes in the general education curriculum be graded using the same standards. That is, if an LEA assigns grades to nondisabled students participating in regular education classes using grade level standards to reflect progress in the general education curriculum, then the LEA would also use those standards to assign grades to students with disabilities in those same classes. See 34 C.F.R. § 104.4(b)(1)(i)-(iv) and 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(1)(i)-(iv). Nothing in Section 504 or Title II prohibits SEAs and LEAs from deciding how to establish standards to reflect the progress or level of achievement of students with disabilities who are taught using different course content or a modified or alternate education curriculum. To the extent that a student with a disability is not participating in regular education classes, but is receiving modified course content or is being taught under a modified or alternate curriculum, it would be up to the SEA and/or the LEA to determine the standards to be used to measure the student’s progress or level of achievement.

  1. May special notations, including asterisks or other symbols, appear on a transcript for a student with a disability who received accommodations in general education curriculum classes?

In general, no. Because the use of accommodations generally does not reflect a student’s academic credentials and achievement, but does identify the student as having a disability, it would be a violation of Section 504 and Title II for a student’s transcript to indicate that the student received accommodations in any classes. For example, a notation indicating the use of Braille materials is not related to whether that student mastered all the tenth grade objectives for her literature class. The only purpose of such a notation is to identify that student as having a visual impairment. Because accommodations are generally understood to include aids and adjustments to enable a student with a disability to learn and demonstrate knowledge, this notation could identify the student as having a disability and therefore constitute different treatment on the basis of disability.

  1. May a transcript for a student with a disability indicate that a student received a certificate of attendance or similar document rather than a regular diploma?

A transcript for a student with a disability may indicate receipt of a certificate of attendance or a similar document, rather than a regular diploma, under certain circumstances. These circumstances are where this does not disclose that a student has received special education or related services, does not otherwise specifically disclose that a student has a disability (for example, because certificates of attendance are available to both students with disabilities and students without disabilities), is not used for the purpose of identifying programs for students with disabilities, and is consistent with the purpose of a student transcript -- to inform postsecondary institutions and prospective employers of a student’s academic credentials and achievements.

  1. May a student’s transcript indicate that the student participated in a modified curriculum?

Yes. The purpose of the transcript is to present an accurate picture of a student’s coursework. If the curriculum content has been modified, the transcript may reflect that modification through some type of symbol or code that indicates that the student received modified grades or completed work at a lower grade level. The explanation of the symbol or code can not indicate that the student has a disability or that the student is in special education.

References

Anderson, Gabrielle E., Whipple, Angela D., & Jimerson, Shane R. (2002). Grade Retention – Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes. National Association of School Psychologists.

Eggert, Dean B. (2001). Grading Students with Educational Disabilities. New Hampshire: Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, P.L.L.C.

Freedman, Miriam Kurtzig, M.A., J. D. (2008). Grades, Report Cards, etc….and the Law. Boston: School Law 1 2 3.

Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Children, Family and Community Services (1999). Grades, Diplomas and Transcripts for Students with Disabilities.

National Association of School Psychologists. Jimerson, Shane R. PhD, NCSP and Sarah M. Woehr, & Amber M. Kaufman, MA (2007). Grade Retention and Promotion: Information for Parents.

Quenemoen, R.F., Lehr, C.A., Thurlow, M. L., Thompson, S. J., & Bolt, S. (2000). Social Promotion and Students with Disabilities: Issues and Challenges in Developing State Policies External link opens in new window or tab.. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes

Salend, Spencer J. & Duhaney, Laurel M. Garrick (2002). Grading Students in Inclusive Settings. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 34(3) 8-15.

Stump, Colleen Shea (2001). Grade Retention: The Great Debate External link opens in new window or tab.. San Francisco: Great Schools, INC.

Thompson, Charles L. & Cunningham, Elizabeth K. (2000). Retention and Social Promotion: Research and Implications for Policy External link opens in new window or tab.. ERIC Digest.

 

Questions: Linda Wyatt | lwyatt@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-3254 
Last Reviewed: Monday, October 22, 2018
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