What About High School? (updated 2019)

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 college 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.

Updated 9/13/19

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.

 

17 Comments

  1. Linda Schuenemann

    my son walked across the stage because he earned all his credits – but he didn’t get his diploma because he did not pass the math portion of the TAAKS. He has taken it 6 times. He can’t get a decent job without that diploma and can’t get into college! The school district told me he can “buy” a diploma from park view baptist in Houston- but my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer last February and with all the surgery, chemo, etc, we don’t have the cash. So I’m not sure where to go from here.

    1. em

      Linda.. sb149 if it goes into law will helo your son bec it is retroactive snd he would be able to obtain his diploma. Pls call the governors office and share your story.. This is why sb149 is vital! Im so sorry abt your husbands battle! :/

    2. admin

      Linda, please have your son check back with the school. There is a new law that applies to some kids in your son’s situation that let’s them receive their diploma/

  2. Karesha Icho

    Create a name for your homeschool, except his credits from school, and print off your own diploma for him.

    1. admin

      Some programs and institutions require a diploma from an accredited school or a GED. They accept home school but often require more extensive testing for that to happen. So make the right decision for your particular situation. If an accredited diploma makes a difference to a family’s situation, this is an important option.

      However, please note that it is a myth that home school diplomas must be treated the same as public school diplomas. A home school is considered an unaccredited private school. Employers, colleges and others are permitted to treat graduates of unaccredited and accredited programs differently.

  3. Jeannie

    exactly Karesha! Pull him out of school and homeschool. In Texas, homeschoolers give their kids diplomas, that by law, are required to be treated the same as a public school diploma. We graduated my son like this and he is now in college. No need to go through a private school or pay anything!

    1. admin

      Some programs and institutions require a diploma from an accredited school or a GED. They accept home school but often require more extensive testing for that to happen. So make the right decision for your particular situation. If an accredited diploma makes a difference to a family’s situation, this is an important option.

      However, please note that it is a myth that the law requires home school diplomas to be treated in the same way as public school diplomas. Home school diplomas are considered to be the same as an unaccredited private school. Employers, colleges and others may legally distinguish between graduates of accredited and unaccredited programs.

  4. Serena Corbett

    I wish I had read this sooner! My son is a struggling sophomore. He lost his dad in September of this year so he was setback emotionally which affected his daily life. As snyone who has experienced grief knows. He has struggled with assessment testing since 8th grade. He has adhd also. Math is his worst subject. I truly believe it stems from anxiety he has experienced from earlier testing and the emphasis put on this test by teachers. He like so many other children Ive read stories about here, suffers severe stomach upset, headaches worry. At the time of these tests. It has ultimatley led to him hating school. (His words). Because noone cares about me only what score I get. It is heartbtreaking what our children are being reduced to. This has to stop and Im learning how to be part of the solution! Thank
    You for articles like this.

  5. Janice stokes naumannn

    My son was in Hisd and getting no where. We home schooled his senior year thru park view baptist. He got his diploma and had a gradation ceremony . He went on to San Jacinto and got his associates. He is making great money today doing what he loves. It was so worth the $80 a month to pay for park view. This was like 10 years ago. Before STAAR so worth the money!!!!’

  6. Debbie

    I want opt my son out of STAAR next week. What procedures should I take. Is any of this still valid?

    1. admin

      What do you mean is it still valid???? Seriously?

      Please read the step by step guide. It answers your questions about procedures.

  7. Alicia Verdier

    My son opted out of STAAR in high school and used the TEA Alternative Assessments for his EOCs. He graduated in 2018, in the top 3% of his class. HISD did try to prevent his graduation, but Scott Placek was instrumental in informing them that they had no grounds to deny him a diploma. None of the universities my son applied to ever asked about a STAAR score, and he was accepted into schools both inside and out of Texas.

  8. Ann Merrill

    So far 3 of my sons have graduated high school without the high stakes assessments.
    2012: graduated under SPED, minimum requirements. He never had to attempt the TAKS after transferring from out of state in 2011.

    2016: graduated under SB149. He had taken 3 required during freshman year, by choice. 2012 was the first year we opted out after researching things with the oldest (mentioned above). He was actually commended on his freshman STAAR. However he decided it was a horrible waste of time, filled with trickery, poorly written assessment to gauge basic knowledge, and no contribution for college preparation (which isn’t required anyways).
    After much discussion with our principal, who didn’t even know the TEA policies or SB149…he refused the other 2 STAAR which counter as “attempted”. Even so he had substitutions for STAAR: TSI, ACT with writing, PSAT, PACT, and AP exams qualifiying score of 4.
    He graduated in 2012 with honors.

    2018: graduated through SPED. He refused all STAAR, which counted as “attempted”. During his junior year (2016-17), he and the youngest son (a freshman) met with the school counselor in the office to break the seal on 3 of the 5 STAAR to make it “official”..then hand them back unanswered. This only happened once. From then on, a phone call and email offered the STAAR. Upon refusal, the assessment would be scored “S” and returned. He never took a single STAAR. No substitute assessments.
    He graduated on the recommended program.

    2020: upcoming graduation for our last in school, now a senior. He has never taken a single STAAR, refusing each time it’s offered. He has substitutions for each STAAR: TSI, ACT with writing, PSAT, PACT, and future AP exams.

    Graduating under an IGC. Currently sixth in his class of 148.

  9. Jennifer Rosenboom

    May 24, 2018: My senior will not be getting his diploma tomorrow when he walks the stage. This jeopardizes his scheduled US Army ship out date of July 1st. He has one EOC that he has to pass before they will give him his diploma. He has enough credits to graduate but that’s not good enough. At the beginning of his senior year he has passed only 2 EOCs. After the fall 2017 attempts, nothing changed. I reached out to the school asking for their game plan in January of 2018, and I was told we have to wait until he retakes it in the spring of 2018. After attempting the Algebra (9th attempt), English I (9th attempt), and English II (6th attempt), he was still not able to pass them. The AP had him do three projects as IGC (not formally called or met). He passed all three yet the district will still not grant the English II IGC so he can get his diploma. Nope. Instead he has to wait until June to take it for a SEVENTH time and hope he passes it. However, results will not be in on time in order for him to be able to go to basic and he will have to push this back until he finally can pass it.

    May 26, 2018: We decided NOT to retest and NOT to be a slave to the TEA. Decision was made to find an alternative degree program so he can make his ship out date.

    May 30, 2018: requested US Army to evaluate TOPS for acceptance.

    May 31, 2018: ordered program from TOPS after finding a back up plan that will accept TOPS diploma (local police Department). Praying the US Army will also accept it.

    June 4, 2018: program arrived in the evening via USPS. Also heard back from the Army that they would accept TOPS diploma!

    June 6, 2018: he completed the entire workbook which took about two FULL days to complete. Mailed workbook overnight via USPS.

    June 8, 2018: phone call from TOPS announced he passed and will get a diploma. Gets diploma, tassel, 2 sealed official and 1 unsealed transcript. Should be sent off Monday (6/11).

    June 13, 2018: diploma, transcripts, and tassel arrive. Transcript shows graduation date of 6/8/18!

    July 3, 2018: after 3 days at MEPS waiting to ship out to Basic Combat Training, he finally arrived to Fort Leonard Wood! Mom received “the call” shortly after midnight on July 4th that he arrived safely. “Happy Independence Day” now takes on a whole new meaning!

    November 21, 2018: after an injury during CBT, and being recycled through BCT, he GRADUATES from basic training!

    Feb 4, 2018: graduation from Advance Individual Training! Now the fun begins, finally!

    Feb 5, 2018: arrives at first duty station at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas!

    He did NOT allow this flawed system to hold him back from his dreams!

    It is possible to graduate AND receive a diploma AND fulfill dreams without taking or passing STAAR!

  10. Michele McDonald

    My daughter graduated 2nd in her class of over 400 and didn’t take all of her EOCs. She did not take English I or English 2. Instead she used SAT and ACT to cover those. She did walk at graduation and gave a speech. She was offered admission to several top 20 universities and is currently a Sophomore at Rice University in Houston, Tx with majors in Bio-Physics, Philosophy (with a concentration in ethics), and is trying to wrangle a minor in neuro-science.

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