Students with significant disabilities would have a pathway to a high school diploma under a plan unveiled Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

The proposal is in the form of a waiver request submitted by the state to federal officials, who review changes to ensure compliance with federal law.

If approved, it would, for the first time, offer some students ways to earn a diploma rather than leaving high school without a credential or only a “skills certificate.”

“Federal rules have left students with the most significant disabilities out of state accountability and diploma systems for too long,” state Superintendent of Education John White said in a prepared statement.

“We must protect these students and provide them the academic and career preparation they need to be successful upon leaving high school,” he said.

The change would apply to students with the most severe cognitive disabilities, which are known in education circles as LAA 1 students.

About 3,000 such students attended public high schools in Louisiana during the 2014-15 school year.

However, they are not tabulated in the state’s accountability system since they do not take state tests required of others by federal law.

State officials said the practice is common nationwide but one that leaves students at risk of not getting academic or workplace preparation.

The proposal would set up a series of requirements for students to qualify for a diploma.

Students would have to:

Earn 23 course credits, including the same number of core academic classes required for rank-and-file students;

Achieve proficiency on the assessments given those with significant disabilities or complete a portfolio that demonstrates student growth on learning standards or academic goals hammered out by educators and families; and

Finish a workplace readiness program.

Rather than being uncounted, students who meet the new rules would earn 100 points for their schools in state calculations of high school performance, the same as other students.

The request is part of a waiver renewal three years after Louisiana became one of eight states allowed to get around certain school rules in exchange for major changes in how public schools and students are evaluated.

White said at the time the federal decision meant $375 million in federal school aid — 64 percent of the total — would be freed from restrictions.

The waiver applies to the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The students who would benefit from the change are separate from those covered by a 2014 state law that offers new options for those unable to pass standardized exams needed for graduation.

The state has about 83,000 students with disabilities.

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