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, the usual thought process has always been that 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. But more and more Texas parents are proving that the opposite is true. More and more Texas kids are finishing their Texas high schools without having taken some or all of the EOCS. I go a step further. I hold that, for a committed opt out parent, 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 is strictly based on classroom grades, as it should be. In other words, the threats that most often deter parents 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 all five EOC examinations, they cannot receive a Texas public high school diploma. Except they can graduate via the IGC (Individual Graduation Committee) process by passing just three out of five EOCs. Still, you say, that’s three EOCs we have to take and we want to refuse them all. But the schools say pass three STAARs or don’t graduate. That’s not true. In reality, there are approved substitute assessments that neither the TEA nor the school districts publicize. And the schools have no choice here. The Education Code permits the use of substitute assessments. Other than using the TSI assessment as a substitute, there is ZERO requirement that you first attempt and fail the STAAR EOC. 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 are responsible for providing the school with adequate proof of the substitute assessment score. But once they do, that student has met the EOC graduation requirement and does not need that STAAR EOC to graduate.
But maybe you are a hard core resister. Or maybe you want to be! (Don’t we all?) Even taking the substitute assessments is too much compliance for you! I’m right there with you. I never took an “EOC” to graduate. My grades and credits earned me my diploma, not some scaled four digit score that nobody can understand. What can you do to fight STAAR and still have your kid be an accredited high school graduate? Well here is where the $2.50 a week and lack of sentimentality comes in. 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. (The Texas Success Academy is another option. In full disclosure, I have spoken with the person who runs the program but do not know any parents who have used it.
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. (Update: My son only passed three STAARs. We refused to continue with them and he graduated via IGC in 2015. He’s since earned vocational certificate at the local community college and decided he wants to give academic courses a try.) 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. Take as many or as few EOCs as you wish. Try the substitute assessments, or don’t. 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.” High school opt out, in many ways, is easier than younger levels because the kids are more likely to be able to assert themselves and it won’t affect their class standing. Just be informed and have a plan, and you might be surprised how easy the rest of it is.
A special note for SpEd parents: Once your child hits 9th grade, ask the ARD to write into his IEP that graduation will be based on credits and not on EOC results. They will require him to attempt each one once. Make sure the IEP says only one attempt. Because the TEA insists on grading refused assessments, your child can meet the “attempt” requirement simply by turning in his blank assessment. He will be permitted to graduate with a foundation level diploma.