Note from Autistic Hoya:
This is a guest post from Andrew Collins, who is the co-chapter leader of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network Rhode Island, a member of the Governing Board of the National Youth Leadership Network, and a member of the Arc's Expert Advisory Committee. Formerly, he was the Public Relations Intern for Looking Upwards, Inc.
Dear Commissioner Deborah Gist,
My name is Andrew Collins, Portsmouth High School class of 2012. Receiving my diploma was quite exciting—certainly one of the best moments of my life! I am writing to you because I feel as though this is a moment of glory every child should bask in.
I know you’ve heard much about this topic already, but please take the time to finish this letter. I hope that my personal example will be more effective than the angry calls and petitions. When I heard about the new diploma system, my excitement was inhibited by sudden sense of relief and fear; relief for being fortunate enough to pass the NECAP in 2012, but fear for those who may be receiving a certificate. I, a special education student who had received 4s on the reading and writing portion of the NECAP and nearly a 1 on the math portion, could have, on the right year and a bad day of testing, been one of the people who would be receiving the certificate in the new diploma system.
You were quoted in saying: “A piece of paper is not going to make a difference for a child, for any child in our state." Personally, getting a certificate instead of a diploma would have ruined me. Despite all your qualifications, you are not qualified to speak on behalf of every child in the state. I’ll say the same thing now that I said back in one of your 2011 hearings: this diploma policy fails to take into account the obvious emotional impact getting a certificate instead of a diploma would have on a diligent student, dismisses the fact that colleges and employers will notice the difference between certificates and diplomas, and assumes the state’s behavioral and academic support programs work well enough to ensure any hard-working student can meet the NECAP standards.
I just came out of the public school system as a special education student. I know what it’s like in there. My academic support program (it was an IEP) never really managed to get a handle on my learning disability in math; in fact the only reason I hardly managed a partially proficient score on the math section is because, as someone who has been tested as an intellectually “highly gifted student,” I managed compensatory strategies. A neurologically disadvantaged student who is neither bright enough to manage compensatory strategies nor fortunate to have a perfect support program is, speaking candidly, thrown under the school bus by the weight you place on the NECAP. Also, a student such as this or myself would almost never be able to earn your commendation on our diplomas, given we can get them. The fact that your commendation is only given to high-testing students is just another goal placed out of reach for disabled students. Instead, commend your students on their integrity, diligence, and passion.
Any way you look at it, people such as myself may be getting certificates solely because of learning disabilities we are neurologically incapable of overcoming. Being handed a certificate instead of a diploma, besides the obvious disadvantages it would put an otherwise bright person at, will in fact make an incredible difference. It would be one final, lasting, and forever inescapable branding of academic insufficiency and neurological abnormality. We’ve had our challenges; give us what we’ve earned.