Alternate Diploma vs. Certificate of Completion
What's the Difference for Unique Learners?

Graduation is an exciting time for students, parents, and teachers alike. It’s a culmination of hard work, intensive planning, and years of preparation. Walking in the ceremony and receiving a diploma is a major milestone for all students, but especially for unique learners. And now, more states are providing an alternate path to a high school diploma for students with significant cognitive disabilities. But what is an alternate diploma, and what does it mean for unique learners?

What is an alternate diploma?

An alternate diploma is for students with significant cognitive disabilities. It recognizes the achievements of those who complete their high school education but may not meet the same requirements as their general education peers. Though some states have offered alternate diplomas for years, others have recently taken legislative action to provide this pathway.

What is a certificate of completion?

Some students with significant cognitive disabilities leave formal education with a certificate of completion, a non-academic credential that indicates they’ve completed a specific program or course of study. It is typically awarded to students who have not met the criteria for a diploma but have spent their time in school working toward their IEP goals.

What are the requirements to earn an alternate diploma?

In the U.S., each state has its own set of policies and requirements for awarding alternate diplomas. Many include a certain number of units or credits in standards-aligned courses, including English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. Course offerings such as Algebra I and World History present differentiated content aligned to alternate standards and may pair with general education peer enrollment. Though specific state or district requirements may differ, all students with disabilities are provided with credentials that acknowledge their educational achievements and support future education or employment.

What does an alternate diploma mean for unique learners?

Students who earn an alternate diploma take part in graduation ceremonies and activities with their peers. However, their participation in these events does not end their right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) or their individual education program (IEP). They may continue their education through age 21. Alternate diplomas also provide access to more post-secondary education and employment opportunities.

How does n2y support students in attaining their alternate diploma?

Unique Learning System, our core curriculum, provides consistent, cross-disciplinary instruction that will help students meet alternate diploma requirements. Aligned to state-specific alternate standards, every unit delivers integrated lessons in:

English/language arts: reading, writing, and language
Math: algebra, geometry
Science (biology, physics), social studies (U.S. history, economics), and life skills
Classics*: literature

With over 40 units of instruction in ELA, math, science and social studies, Unique Learning System’s standards-aligned, age-appropriate, and rigorous curriculum provides the perfect pathway for students to meet requirements for the alternate diploma.

*This is a separate solution that integrates with Unique Learning System

Graduation and what comes after for unique learners

The goal of an alternate diploma is to open more doors of opportunity for students with significant cognitive disabilities who learn through a modified curriculum. Having earned this diploma, graduates can obtain higher education and pursue careers that would not have been available otherwise. This might give them a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment as they expand their role in society. And teachers who want to ensure their qualified students meet the requirements for their state’s alternate diploma will find Unique Learning System is exactly what they need to support them along the way.