I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing this. Parents of kids as young as third grade hear this. Some parents have even been told that passing STAAR in elementary school is required to graduate high school. We’ll file that claim as “too stupid to merit a response.” But let’s consider what underlies these types of claims being made to parents of younger students. The only reason to mention the EOC requirements to a elementary or middle school student as a reason to take STAAR is an underlying belief that taking the 3rd to 8th grade STAAR somehow prepares the kids for their high school EOCs. (EOC is what STAAR is called in high school. Every EOC is a STAAR and there are no high school STAAR assessments that are not EOCs). Let’s consider three reasons why this argument is weak. First, the Grade 3-8 assessments are generalized grade level (in theory) academic assessments untethered from any specific class content. The EOCs on the other hand are designed to assess content mastery at the end of a specified course of instruction. These are two different objectives, and they should not be conflated. Second, there has never been any demonstration that simply taking STAAR makes students any better at taking it the next time. To the contrary, the research tends to show that the kids who pass one tend to pass others and kids who fail are not somehow elevated to passing by more test taking practice. Finally, it ignores the fact that the curriculum is packed with assessments – whether part of the class or part of district benchmarking – designed to mimic STAAR. Your students will have no shortage of “practice” before their first EOC. But let’s get back to the point. Do you really have to pass STAAR to graduate? The answer is no.
Now, let’s be clear. Passing all five EOC assessments is one way a student can meet the requirements for graduation from a public high school. (Notably no such requirements apply to private schools or home schoolers.) But it is not the only way. What are the other ways?
- Use substitute assessments. Each high school EOC has one or more nationally recognized assessment that can be taken in place of the STAAR EOC. If you score at the passing standard, then you have satisfied the EOC graduation requirement for that course without ever taking the EOC. Pass all five substitute assessments and you graduate without ever taking STAAR. Note, the existence of substitute assessments is a matter of state law. Schools do not have the option to “refuse” the use of substitute assessments. Likewise, they cannot require a student to attempt the STAAR EOC before accepting the substitute assessment. No such rule exists.
- Graduate by IGC. In 2015, faced with nearly 30% of seniors having failed to pass all five EOCs, the Texas legislature created individual graduation committees to permit any student who has failed to meet performance standards on two or fewer EOCs to graduate by vote of a committee of school staff and the parent. This is often referred to as “3 of 5”, signifying that the student needs to have passed three EOCs to be eligible. While this is not really complete, it is generally true for students who spend all four years in Texas public high schools. So clearly the law allows graduation without passing all five EOCs and when schools omit that, it is purposeful. In addition, any substitute assessment counts as one of the “three.” As a result, the student could pass three substitute assessments, turn in blank EOCs on the other two, and then go to an IGC to graduate having never taken an EOC. Or, a parent whose child already has finished three EOCs, or some combination of EOCs and substitute assessments could refuse the remaining EOCs and go to IGC. Either way, five EOCs are not required to graduate.
- ARD Committee – For Special Education Students Only – If your child is covered by an IEP, they can graduate simply by the ARD committee accepting their “participation” in STAAR as sufficient for graduation. There is no minimum number of assessments passed. There are no retake requirements and no minimum score requirements. This method of graduation does not preclude graduating with endorsements, honors or any other recognition.
- CVEP Program – One option for students who are unable to pass the substitute assessments or get to an IGC is the CVEP Program. This method involves using your local public school for all instruction and activities needed for graduation. Those credits are then transferred to an accredited private school which evaluates them, provides a short course of remote, self-guided instruction, and certifies the student for graduation. One parent in this group used CVEP to save her child’s enlistment in the armed forces which was threatened by his failure to pass enough EOC’s to graduate. On very short notice, they were enrolled in CVEP, completed the program, received transcripts and diplomas and successfully entered the armed forces. The downside to this method is that there is a small cost (currently $500) associated with it.
- Homeschool Graduation – If an accredited diploma is unimportant to you, you can declare your child a home school graduate. The downside here is that if your child is planning to attend college, you will not have the traditional homeschool documentation that colleges expect. However, with the transcript from the high school they should accept his academic readiness. We do not have any specific reports of parents successfully using this method to enter college or the armed forces. I have serious doubts that this will work for the armed forces, as it is transparently not “traditional” home schooling.
So the next time the school tells you that you have to pass five EOCs to graduate high school, you can just nod knowingly and wonder whether they really don’t know or whether it is just more subtle intimidation for parents.