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High school exit exams can be another barrier to students with disabilities obtaining a general education diploma. Nine states require a passing score on the high school exit exam to receive a high school diploma, according to Education Week. During research for her dissertation, Kilpatrick met a parent whose twins had a specific learning disability and took the high school exit exam a combined total of 25 times. The hours dedicated to the exit exam came out as the equivalent to several days of high school life and could’ve been devoted to learning skills, such as job interview practice, said Kilpatrick. Georgia, where Kilpatrick works, suspended the high school exit exam in 2015.

Leslie Lipson, a lawyer with 21 years of experience in legal educational and disability advocacy, said that the biggest systemic barrier that people with disabilities face is that they “are devalued as a whole in our culture.” The K-12 education system is a reflection of cultural and social experience at large, she added. 

Kilpatrick recommended that parents and students explore all of the options available to them regarding post-secondary education, starting in ninth grade. This includes the different academic tracks and career clusters available, as well as advocating for check-ins about those academic goals at every annual IEP meeting. Kilpatrick also encouraged families to inquire with testing providers about accommodations for the SAT, ACT and AP exams. 

It is also important that students and parents know that they can advocate for or request honors, advanced placement, gifted and dual enrollment classes, said Kilpatrick. She also said that parents and students must remain mindful about the changes to legal protections when a student transitions from a K-12 education to post-secondary education options. Specifically, the change from IDEA protections, which ensure k-12 students have free access to diagnostic and special education services, to ADA or ADAAA protections, which ensure equal rights and protections for students with disabilities on college campuses and beyond.

From her dissertation research, Kilpatrick cited a solid support system as a factor in success after high school for students with disabilities. Many caregivers she talked to found knowledge-sharing between families helpful. Those networks may be found through school connections or other avenues, such as Parent to Parent, an organization that offers resources to parents and families of children with disabilities. Parents spend emotional labor, often invisible to schools and educators, said Kilpatrick, and they requested that educators have more empathy towards students with disabilities. 

According to Kilpatrick, school systems have to re-envision the possibilities for special education and students with disabilities. This can be done by providing training for educators and instilling a willingness to learn from families of students with disabilities. By holding high expectations for students with disabilities, educators reinforce the idea that these students and families “deserve to be supported,” and “deserve to have great life outcomes,” said Kilpatrick. “Disabilities are not homogeneous.”



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