By Amanda Trimillos
Moving can be a difficult time for any military family. We say goodbye to our friends, our neighbors, our routines, and our support system. But for high school students, changing schools because of a military move—or permanent change of station (PCS)—could mean saying goodbye to much, much more. A move in high school can put students at risk for repeating courses and losing credits, resulting in delayed graduation, which in turn can affect college acceptance.
But help is available. The Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children has a lot to say about allowing military-connected students to graduate on time! Knowing the provisions of the Interstate Compact and how to use those provisions can lessen the negative impact of a move during high school. Parents and educators need to know the Interstate Compact and the solutions it offers, as well as take some proactive measures.
Challenge: Each state has graduation requirements that may only be able to be met in that state, for example a state history requirement. Students PCSing in their junior or senior year have probably met this requirement in the sending school but have not taken the state history for the state they will graduate. Repeating courses like these could delay graduation.
Provisions: The Interstate Compact, Chapter 400, covers graduation requirements. Provisions in the compact allow schools to waive graduation requirements if those same requirements were met at a previous school. This means a student should not be required to take a class in state history in more than one state when moving to a new state on military orders. According to the compact, if a waiver cannot be granted, the school has the responsibility to provide alternative options to ensure the student will graduate on time.
Challenge: Just as states set their own mandatory courses, they also have their own system of testing required for graduation. States might call these exit exams or standards of learning, or they might use national achievement tests as a graduation requirement. Many times, military-connected students take various equivalent tests at each high school they attend.
Provisions: The Interstate Compact, Chapter 400 on graduation requirements, also allows schools to accept tests taken and passed at a previous high school in lieu of those required by a receiving school. If the student has passed the exit exam requirement in one state, the requirement should also be valid at subsequent schools. If the student was not required to take a state exam but took a national assessment exam, the school might be able to accept the national exam to fulfill the testing requirement. Students and parents should discuss these possibilities with school counselors and administrators, and carry a copy of the Interstate Compact.
Challenge: Military-connected students often find some classes on their transcripts do not transfer to a new school, because of varying course descriptions. Courses in each school may be similar, but the titles and descriptions vary and may not offer enough information about class content. When course titles and learning objectives are unclear, core classes a student has taken may transfer as electives, and the student may have to retake a core class, if the receiving school can’t determine the class content and whether it meets their requirement.
Provisions: Interstate Compact Chapter 500 covers placement and attendance, and helps keep students from repeating courses so they can graduate. While the Interstate Compact does offer some help, students and parents should also be proactive.
<A high school student’s Education Binder should include course descriptions, lists of textbooks, and course standards taught. The sending school or teacher can provide this information. These will help the receiving school determine course content, align the course descriptions with their own, and determine how to give credit.
Challenge: Not all schools offer equivalent classes. These classes often come in the form of higher-level math, language, or specialized courses only offered in specific schools across the nation. This challenge is often seen when a student needs multiple years of the same language for either graduation or college applications, but the new school does not offer the same language options.
Provisions:. The Interstate Compact, Chapter 500 on placement and attendance, also helps with this challenge. According to the compact, the receiving school may allow the student to attend similar educational courses in other schools if the courses are not offered at the new school.
Parents and students may also explore:
<Local dual enrollment options that allow a student to college-level courses while in high school.
<Online courses that allow the student to take courses not available at their brick-and-mortar school. For example, Department of Defense Education Activity Virtual High School. Students eligible to attend DODEA schools are also eligible for this online school, including students who started their courses in a DoDEA school but cannot complete them in their new location.
Challenge: Students may transfer into a new school and not be able or eligible to continue in their honors, advanced placement, gifted, special education, or support classes. The receiving school may not offer the same courses for the grade level or may require prerequisites to enter into a program. Required teacher evaluations and recommendations vary, and may delay or deny a student’s enrollment in special courses.
Provisions: The Interstate Compact, Chapter 500 on placement and attendance, helps with this too. The compact states that incoming students are to be enrolled in the same level of classes as those at a sending school. Receiving states or districts do have the right to retest students to ensure proper placement, but according to the compact, students are to be first to be enrolled in equivalent level class and then moved if needed after testing takes place. This keeps eligible students from missing valuable instruction time while waiting for testing.
Many frustrations and challenges come hand-in-hand with a PCS during the high school years. While declining orders or choosing a geo-bachelor solution may be an option, the compacts protections and provisions can help the students as they move with their families.
The first step is to read and re-read the Intestate Compact. Know the solutions it mandates, the solutions it suggests, and what solutions it doesn’t address. Start the conversation with a new school as early as possible to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.
Amanda Trimillos, EdD, helps education colleagues integrate military-connected students into the classroom. She is a military spouse, mother, National Board-Certified Teacher, and the coauthor of Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers.