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Over the years, the state Board of Regents has struggled to develop alternative diploma or graduation options for students with disabilities, including students unable to obtain a Regents or local diploma. In June 2013, the Regents introduced the New York State Career Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) Commencement Credential, an exiting credential that is distinct from a high school diploma and signifies entry-level work readiness. The Regents designed the CDOS credential to replace the now-defunct individualized education program (IEP) diploma.

Not all students with disabilities are eligible for the CDOS credential. Students with severe disabilities who take the New York State Alternate Assessment are not eligible for the CDOS credential but are eligible for the Skills and Achievement Commencement Credential.

Neither the CDOS credential nor the Skills and Achievement credential count as a high school diploma, and the recipient student may remain in school until receiving a local or Regents high school diploma or until the conclusion of the school year in which the student turns 21.

It is also possible for a student with a disability to receive the CDOS credential and a regular high school diploma at the same time.

The CDOS credential initially became available to students during the 2013-14 school year. Recognizing that students would need several years to meet all of the eligibility requirements for the CDOS credential, the commissioner of education issued regulations that permitted school principals, in consultation with relevant faculty, to determine whether a student demonstrated knowledge and skills that would make them valuable in the workplace. As a result, over the last two years, a student could have received the CDOS credential without meeting all coursework and work-based learning requirements that the Regents specified for the CDOS credential.

However, commencing with the 2015-16 school year, all currently enrolled students seeking to earn the CDOS credential must meet all four of the following requirements:

  • The student must complete at least two units of study, totaling 216 hours, of career and technical education (CTE) coursework and work-based learning experiences.  Students need to spend at least a quarter of that time (54 hours) in work-based learning experiences.
  • The student must develop a “career plan” that describes his or her career interests and goals. The plan should also document the student’s career-related strengths, describe skills and experiences needed and identify relevant CTE coursework and work-based learning experiences that the student will pursue.
  • The student must demonstrate achievement of the commencement level CDOS learning standards in the areas of career exploration and development, integrated learning and universal foundation skills.
  • The student must complete at least one “employability profile” that documents the student’s skills and experiences, attainment of each of the commence-
    ment level CDOS learning standards and, as appropriate, attainment of technical knowledge and work-related skills, work experiences, performance on industry-based assessments and other work-related and academic achievements.

CDOS-related programs may be provided by state agencies or by school districts. Work-based learning experiences must be provided consistent with State Education Department’s (SED) guidelines, under the supervision of the district and documented in the student’s transcript.  As a result, a student’s independent employment, such as a part-time job in the service industry, cannot be counted as part of the minimum 54 hours of school-supervised workplace learning.

CTE coursework that counts toward the credential must be completed in grades 9-12 and include specialized or integrated courses in CTE. Course offerings approved at the district level may focus on agriculture, business and marketing, family and consumer sciences, and/or technology, and must be taught by certified CTE teachers.  Unless also certified as a CTE teacher, a special and/or general education teacher cannot teach courses required for the credential. This does not, however, preclude a CTE teacher and special and/or general education teacher from working together to co-plan and/or deliver the coursework.

Although some general education courses may include some CDOS learning standards in their curriculum (e.g., students in an English language arts class are taught to draft a resume), they cannot count toward CDOS requirements. The equivalent units of study for the credential may only be earned through coursework in CTE and work-based learning experiences, not in general education coursework.

In an effort to help students succeed, school districts may also hire or retain job coaches to provide on-the-job training and help students adjust to the work environment. Teacher aides may generally not serve as job coaches unless they are working under the supervision of a teacher who may or may not be present at the work site. Although not required, SED recommends that job coaches complete a job coach training program.

Given that students seeking the credential are engaged in on-the-job activities, it is important to consider whether an employer-employee relationship exists between the CDOS program and student. The existence of such a relationship could trigger a series of employment-related obligations to the student, including payment of minimum wage. According to guidance from the federal government, when determining whether such a relationship exists between a participating business and student, the school district should consider a number of factors, such as whether the student expects payment for the work, whether the student’s participation is immediately advantageous to the business, and whether the student is entitled to employment with the business after concluding the program. These requirements should be carefully considered when determining whether a program or business should participate in a CDOS-related activity and when drafting agreements with participants.

Student safety is another important issue. School districts should ensure that students participating in work-placed learning programs are educated about possible workplace hazards. This is best accomplished through individualized safety training, based on the student’s specific job and duties, and with consideration of the student’s disability.

How much will employers value the CDOS credential? This remains to be seen. As mentioned above,  the first wave of students to receive the CDOS credential have not been required to meet all of its substantive requirements, which could affect early perceptions.

Officials in local school districts and BOCES say it’s critical that the CDOS credential be perceived as more rigorous than the IEP diploma, which was criticized for failing to signify workplace readiness. Both school and business leaders are hopeful that the requirements described in this article will lead to a steady stream of young adults who enter the workforce, make valuable contributions and find success.

Members of the New York State Association of School Attorneys represent school boards and school districts. This article was written by Jeffrey J. Weiss and Shannon K. Buffum of Harris Beach PLLC.