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Competency Testing - Exit Options for High School Graduation

Each state is charged with educating its children so that they can grow into productive members of society. The state certifies that its students have learned minimum necessary skills by issuing diplomas, which many students then show to employers in order to prove the students are fit to work. Each state has its own requirements for diplomas, so be sure to check with your local school board to learn the options for students in your district. Below are the commonly available diplomas and their significance.

Standard Diploma

Each state offers a standard diploma to students who have met the regular requirements for graduation. These requirements commonly include:

  • A minimum attendance requirement;
  • A minimum amount of course time, which is measured in "Carnegie Units" and commonly referred to as credits. These course credits only count toward a diploma if students pass their courses; and
  • In states that offer competency testing, passing all the necessary comprehensive or end-of-course exams.

"Honors" diplomas are variations of standard diplomas in which student achievers may choose elective courses or independent studies in addition to their core studies. Such diplomas may also indicate accelerated or advanced coursework.

Individual Education Plan (IEP) Diploma

In some districts, these may be called "modified" or "alternative" diplomas. Instead of using standard competency testing in high school exit exams, students with special needs may be offered an alternative way to earn a high school diploma through completion of individual education plans constructed specifically to the needs of the student. Some states allow modified coursework to count as standard coursework and, therefore, award a standard diploma; others offer "certificates of attainment" or "special certificate of completion" to indicate the student's fulfillment of special criteria for graduation.

Typically, these kinds of diplomas are only available to students whose disabilities prevent them from completing a standard high school curriculum even with accommodations.

Occupational Diploma

Several states offer work/study diplomas, which teach students a trade along with basic academic skills. These trades could include auto mechanics, metal fabrication, culinary skills, carpentry, or any other kind of skill.


Finally, students who left high school before fulfilling requirements necessary for a standard diploma may choose to seek a G.E.D. These initials can stand for different words in different states; it could be called a General Equivalency Degree, General Education Development (test), or General Educational Diploma, but the underlying concept is the same. The state will offer a test which covers the skills required for high school graduation. Students study for this test, sometimes by enrolling in adult education classes, and if they pass, they obtain a degree which is equivalent to a high school diploma.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on School Curriculum Basics and Education Options.

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