Fact Check

Certificate of Completion

Does possessing a Certificate of Completion bar the holder from pursuing a high school diploma or GED?

Published May 31, 2006


Claim:   Possessing a Certificate of Completion blocks its holder for life from serving in the armed forces, obtaining federal loans, and pursuing further education and accreditation.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

Hi-School - Certificate of Completion

The "Certificate of Completion or Attendance" that is being offered in lieu of high school diplomas, is a part of Bush's "No Child Left Behind". This is how it works:

It is for students who are unable to pass both the Language Arts and Math portions of the 10th grade ISTEP. Students must take the same 10th grade test over in the 11th and 12th grades until they pass both portions. If they are unable to pass the 10th grade test by the 12th grade then they have two options:

1. Drop out and go to a GED program or, 2. accept a "Certificate of Completion" - it is NOT a diploma. Once a student accepts it, they cannot ever get a diploma or a GED. A certificate of completion means that a student can never (as long as they live):

1. go to the armed services
2. go to college
3. go to trade school
4. go to journeyman's school
5. go to beauty school
6. go to culinary arts school
7. get a federal loan in their lifetime

This is the portion of NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND (2001) that Bush slipped in during the 2004 revision of the NCLB bill. It has not been publicized. At a high school in Indiana, in 2005, there were 87 seniors in the graduation class. Five got diplomas and 82 got "Certificates of Completion".

This is being referred to as the "Paper Plantation". It is better for students to drop out and get into a GED program so they may seek other forms of education, later in life, if they desire to do so. All 50 states have "Certificates of Completion or Attendance". Please pass this information along to EVERYONE you know who has school age children. Clergy, please preach it from the pulpits. Our people MUST know this information. Thank you & stay blessed.

Origins:   This exhortation to eschew "Certificates of Completion" (CoC) began circulating in the online world in April 2006. While not everything in it is wrong (its claim that a CoC is not a diploma is correct, for instance), most of its claims are untrue. Topping the list of untruths is its assertion that those who accept CoCs are for the rest of

their lives barred from all the things described in the e-mail (i.e., service in the armed forces, receiving any sort of loan from the federal government, or getting into a trade school). That is simply dead wrong: no immutable, lifelong consequences hinge upon one's acceptance of a CoC.

In general, a Certificate of Completion signals that its holder has indeed completed required course work in high school and has met that aspect of the school's graduation requirements. Such recognitions are typically given to students who, while they have fulfilled the coursework required of them from year to year, failed to pass key exit exams.

Each state sets its own high school graduation requirements and determines what aspects of secondary school education its students need to satisfy to qualify for high school diplomas (versus Certificates of Completion). Despite what the e-mail claims, the federal government does not mandate these qualifications, nor were such rules 'slipped in' by President Bush as part of the "No Child Left Behind" initiative.

CoC holders are not barred from obtaining high school diplomas. They can also serve in the armed forces (provided they meet the entry requirements of whichever branches of the service they are interested in) and obtain federal loans (with the exception of student aid loans to underwrite further education, as such loans require applicants to possess high school diplomas or GEDs). The e-mail is partially right when it says possession of CoCs prevents holders from obtaining general equivalency diplomas (GEDs), because in at least some school systems that is the case: the CoC signals that its holder is still in high school (i.e., has completed the required courses but hasn't yet graduated), while the requirements for a GED dictate that its pursuer be out of high school. But even that standard doesn't appear to hold true for all states.

As for students' entering trade schools, CoCs alone will likely not open those doors because such institutions usually require applicants to have either high school diplomas or GEDs, and CoCs are neither of those. However, given that CoC holders can still obtain their high school diplomas, having CoCs does not (as the e-mail asserts) bar their possessors from pursuing further education.

A 24 May 2006 statement issued by the U.S. Department of Education's Deputy Press Secretary, Chad Colby, regarding the "Certificate of Completion" e-mail, elaborates on many of these points:

False statements regarding graduation requirements and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) are being circulated via e-mail. These e-mails are inaccurate, could lead to misunderstanding, and need to be corrected.

The hoax e-mails contain numerous inaccuracies, including the relationship between state graduation requirements and No Child Left Behind, the ability to receive federal loans, and descriptions of state law and schools in Indiana and Illinois.

Each state sets its own requirements for high school diplomas, General Educational Development tests (GED) and "Certificates of Completion." NCLB does not change those state definitions, but does require, for NCLB purposes, that states calculate a graduation rate that is based on a "regular high school diploma." In practice, this means that a GED or "Certificate of Completion" does not count positively in the graduation rate calculation.

Similarly, most colleges and most trade schools require a high school diploma or its equivalent for entrance, so anyone holding a certificate of completion would need to go back and complete the necessary academic requirements to get a diploma before they can apply for admission to the school, and apply for federal student aid. This requirement existed before the No Child Left Behind Act.

In addition, according to Indiana officials, there are several inaccuracies about Indiana in the e-mails. For example, there is not a Lake Ridge Elementary School in that state, nor did any Indiana high school issue 82 "Certificates of Course Completion." Rather, according to the Indiana Department of Education, the maximum number of such certificates issued last year was 29, in a high school with 385 graduates. According to Indiana education officials, a GED, a certificate of completion, a certificate of course completion, or a certificate by any other name does not terminate a person's right to pursue a high school diploma under Indiana law. There are similar inaccuracies about Illinois.

The e-mails also include the erroneous claim that NCLB was "revised" in 2004. In fact, NCLB was enacted on January 8, 2002, and is not scheduled for reauthorization until 2007.

For additional information about the No Child Left Behind Act and other education initiatives, please visit the Department's Web site at https://www.ed.gov.

For additional information, the general public may also call 1-800-USA-LEARN (872-5327).

Indiana's Department of Education web site provides more detail about Certificates of Completion, including answering the question of what purpose they serve.

Barbara "sheepskinflint" Mikkelson

Last updated:   31 May 2006