California Creates New Pathway to a High School Diploma for Students with Exceptional Needs

Assembly Bill (AB) 181, the 2021-2022 budget trailer bill which went into effect on June 30, 2022, created a new pathway to a high school diploma for students with disabilities.  

AB 181, codified as Education Code Section 51225.31, exempts students with disabilities from all coursework and other requirements that are additional to the statewide course requirements set forth in Cal. Educ. Code § 51225.3 and requires local educational agencies (LEAs) to award qualifying students with a diploma of graduation from high school as long as they satisfy certain requirements.

Specifically, an individual with exceptional needs shall be eligible to participate in the new pathway to a high school diploma as long as the student’s IEP provides for all of the following:

  1. The pupil is required to take the alternate assessment aligned to alternate achievement standards in the eleventh grade; and
  2. The pupil is required to complete state standards aligned coursework to meet the statewide coursework requirements specified in Cal. Educ. Code § 51225.3.

Before a pupil commences the tenth grade, the pupil’s IEP team must determine and notify the student’s parent or guardian of whether the pupil may be eligible to participate in the alternative pathway to graduation. However, a failure of the IEP team to make such a determination prior to the student’s tenth grade year does not appear to disqualify the student from participating in this pathway to graduation.  

The statute further specifies that students with exceptional needs who meet the criteria to participate in the alternative pathway to graduation shall be eligible to participate in any graduation ceremony or school graduation activities. The award of such a diploma does not change an LEA’s obligation to provide FAPE to students with exceptional needs or otherwise constitute a change in placement.


LEAs should start providing notification to parents whose students may qualify for participation in the alternative pathway to graduation, which could include all students who have taken or will take the alternative CAASPP in the eleventh grade. Additionally, LEAs should start updating their board policies to reflect the new pathway to graduation for students with disabilities.

For further assistance, please contact Anisa Pillai at