The Opt Out movement has grown steadily with parents in Grades 3 through 8 learning to navigate the intricacies of opting out, declining accelerated instruction and handling grade placement committee meetings for Grades 5 and 8. However, when the kids hit high school, the stakes rise. Now, the TEA wields its biggest hammer: the EOC graduation requirement. A standard line amongst opt out activists is that you simply can’t do it in high school. However, for a committed opt out parent, I take the following position. If you can put aside sentimentality and about $2.50 a week, you, and not the school, hold all the power.
Let’s begin with the best news about high school opt out. EOC passage plays no role in grade advancement. Advancement by grade is wholly dependent on passing the classes — just the way it should be. Since the repeal of the 15% law, EOC exams form no part of a student’s class grade. Again, as it should be. EOC results have no bearing on UIL eligibility. That it strictly based on classroom grades, as it should be. In other words, the threats that deter parents often at the elementary and middle school level, that their child will be retained, do not exist in high school. If your child passes the class and obtains the academic credit, they move on with their grade.
Instead the threat is overt and codified in statute. Unless your child passes five EOC examinations, they cannot receive a Texas public high school diploma. (2017 Update: The current law permitting graduation by IGC for students who pass 3 of 5 EOC assessments expires this year. A bill has been filed to make this provision permanent.) Or can they? In reality, there are approved substitute assessments that neither the TEA nor the school districts publicize. These substitute assessments, which can be found on the TEA website usually take the form of college readiness assessments, such as AP, IB SAT and ACT assessments. While they are still standardized testing, these assessments have a much longer history and are much better written than the STAAR examinations. A student who is “close” on STAAR may find these assessment levels more readily attainable. Parents should inquire with their school districts about the methods for using substitute assessments if they want to go that route.
Now why did I say put aside sentimentality? Because in my experience, the biggest impediment to a parent proactively fighting STAAR at the high school level is the parental dream of seeing their child walk across the stage and receive their high school diploma. It is a scene played out in the parent’s head that in most instances holds far more meaning for the parent than the student. For students, events like prom, class trips and mementos such as class rings mean far more than sitting in the Texas sun to receive a piece of paper. To live out this dream, parents readily subject their children, despite learning disabilities, test anxiety, English language acquisition or a myriad of other causes that render STAAR an unreliable assessment, to the annual dreaded cycle of testing, retesting and summer school. A student challenged in language arts, may take 20 ELA assessments in their high school career in hopes of getting a passing grade. A math challenged student may take 11 assessments hoping to get that passing mark. Hours upon hours will be spent in STAAR tutorials and summer school. Jobs, family vacations and curriculum enriching courses will go by the wayside all for the parent’s dream of seeing the child walk the stage.
In my mind, this is foolishness. The psychic benefit of that “moment” is grossly outweighed by the psychological trauma to the child. My son talks about his STAAR tutorial classes as the classes for the “stupid kids.” That is how he sees himself. That is how his peers categorize the students pulled out for STAAR remediation. Every ounce of educational privacy rights is obliterated by pull out instruction and remediation that is visible to the peers of these students. If I had only known . . .
Remember the $2.50 a week I told you to put away? For about $500, a parent can transfer all the class credits their child earns during their high school career to a private school, and after a short online “tutorial”, receive a fully accredited diploma. Your child becomes a high school graduate. There is no stage and no cap and gown, but that credential that opens the door to high school, military service our other pre-requisites is obtained without taking a single standardized test. The parent wins. The child wins. You use your taxpayer provided public schools for every single classroom credit your child needs. Then you say “thank you very much” send a check for $500 and get the accredited diploma from a private school. One such program is the CVEP program through The Oaks Private School. The school is fully accredited. The diploma is accepted for post-secondary education. You receive full transcripts. You win.
Note: 2017 Update – We have removed Broady Academy from this article. They lost their accreditation.
Personally, I have spent well over $500 on tutoring, test prep materials, and other services designed to help my now senior level son pass STAAR. We’ve studied, crammed, argued, fought and cried over this ridiculous STAAR assessment. When I discovered CVEP, that all stopped. We made a deal to focus on the areas we agree he needs to improve, continue his strong classroom achievement, and when the school year ends, we’ll do the CVEP program and receive his diploma. It’s the credential, not the ceremony that matters. The stress level has dropped dramatically. Had I known of this program when my son entered 9th grade, he would never have taken a single EOC.
High school parents, with a little planning and an objective outlook, you really do hold all the power. The only threat the school has is to withhold the diploma, but you can tell them “so what.” You don’t have to homeschool. You don’t have to pay four years or even one semester of private school tuition. You can use and exploit the public education you pay for with your taxes. Your child can play sports with their peers, join the band, compete in One Act Play, and every other activity available to their neighborhood friends. And they can do it without taking a single EOC. All you have to do is let go of sentimentality, make it about your child, and tell the school “No thanks, we don’t need your diploma.”