Homeschooling a Struggling High Schooler—Credits, Curriculum, Diplomas
By Dianne Craft, MA, CNHP
You know in your heart that homeschooling is best for your children, and especially for your struggling learner or child with special needs. You see the progress your struggling learner has made in the elementary years, as you created a specialized teaching program that worked for him. But when this same child becomes a teenager and enters high school, the “nervousness” begins. The questions bombard you at night: How will I give this child a diploma? How am I going to get in all the credits he needs to graduate? What will he do after high school? Is college even an option?
Let’s explore ways that other parents have found to make this high school experience successful, not stressful.
First, it is important to point out that a diploma is simply a certificate by which a person or an organization certifies that the person named on the diploma has successfully completed a course of study. In most states, the parents, as teachers and administrators of the school, determine an appropriate course of study and set forth the graduation requirements for their homeschooled high school student. This course of study is based on the teenager’s functioning level, his special needs, and his post-secondary plans and goals.
Only a very small number of states impose high school graduation requirements on homeschoolers. Since the U.S. is so diverse when it comes to high school graduation requirements, it is best to check with your local support group leaders about state requirements that the homeschoolers in your area follow.
It is good to remember that struggling students, as well as functionally disabled students, are given high school credit and graduate from public high schools all the time. Thus, unless the case is unusual, we can apply these same criteria to homeschool students who have a documented learning disability. It is important to have the teenager’s disability documented by a qualified tester and to have accommodations and modifications listed.
If you have a teenager with severe disabilities, such as developmental disabilities, or in cases where an individual will more than likely not live independently, you can choose to award this teenager an alternative diploma, such as a Special Education Diploma, Certificate of Completion, or a Certificate of Achievement. In the records you keep, just make sure to indicate that the student’s high school program has been modified. However, the parents must carefully consider the implications of awarding an alternative diploma, because doing so could place some restrictions on post-secondary learning or employment.
For those students who decide to forgo further formal education and who will be entering a technical training school, the work force, or the military, a basic general high school diploma is recommended. This includes 20–22 high school credits. It would be good to check with your local community college to see what their requirements are. Since they offer many good “remedial-type” courses, many students who have been struggling in high school find that this is a tailored, friendly introduction to some further training or career education. There are many courses that your teenager, who may have struggled with language arts or math, may find appealing, such as courses in art, computer, hospitality, animal husbandry, etc.
An example of coursework required in order to receive a general high school diploma:
3–4 credits of English
3 credits of math
2–3 credits of social studies
2 credits of science
2 credits of health/fitness
1 credit of art/music
6 credits of electives (typing, computer, cooking, Bible, etc.)
Parents are encouraged not to automatically rule out college because their teenager has learning challenges, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia. Families who are homeschooling a teenager with learning disabilities are strongly encouraged to plan a high school program of studies with college in mind. Because of the many accommodations that now are routinely made for students with learning disabilities, many teenagers find that more formal post-secondary education is an entirely achievable goal. Sometimes these students find that community college is a great stepping-stone to a four-year university or college. Check with the college your child is considering, to see what their requirements are.
Credits for Teens Working Below Grade Level
In the public school system, the resource teacher is allowed to make adjustments to the diploma requirements for her teenagers with special needs. This can be done by the homeschool “resource teacher” (you) also. The two requirements are that official testing, which has documented the specific special need or learning disability of the child, has taken place, and that the documentation includes the accommodations and modifications to curriculum that have been made throughout their schooling. For example, if a tenth-grade student is capable of doing only sixth-grade level math and meets the conditions noted below, then he may be given a high school credit in math for completing the sixth-grade material.
What are the “conditions” that a child must meet in order to be given this modification?
- He is in ninth grade or above and has been officially diagnosed as having a learning disability.
- He is performing at or near his ability to learn in that subject and is showing that this year’s work is a progression from last year’s work.
- He has completed the requirements of the course to the satisfaction of the parent, and the parent has documented that work.
What if your teen is reading below high school level? Among the options for course work, you can use adapted materials, such as high interest/low vocabulary materials, books on tape, or print recognition software or reading pens, or the parent/teacher may simply read the assigned material aloud to the teen.
The goal here is to make the content accessible to the student with a learning disability or special need. The information is acquired by the student but in a manner and at a modified level that ensures the student’s understanding.
Alternative High School Course Work
The beauty of homeschooling is that you can tailor a course of study based on your child’s needs, functioning level, and strengths and weaknesses. You are free to design an alternative course of study for the requirements. For instance, if you feel that your teen will be unable to be successful with higher-level math course work, such as Trigonometry or Calculus or Algebra II, you can offer alternative math course work, such as Consumer Math, Computers, Accounting, or General Math. Your teenager can take a video math course, such as Teaching Textbooks, and you can do the lessons and chapter tests together. In Resource Room classrooms across the country, students with learning disabilities are allowed to ask the teacher questions about how to do a math process, during the test. At other times the student will take the test, but if the score is low, the student is tutored and then permitted to take the test again. These are all accommodations and modifications that can be made to help the student succeed in a subject that would otherwise not be available to him.
To make these course adjustments easier for you, there are some wonderful publishers and vendors that carry alternative high school course work and curricula. One resource that many parents find helpful is Hewitt Homeschooling Resources (www.hewitthomeschooling.com). While not carrying a special needs curriculum specifically, this company does offer courses that are much more user friendly for the struggling homeschooler. A few additional curriculum resources are www.avcsbooks.com, www.highnoonbooks.com, www.academictherapy.com, and www.rempub.com.
Rest assured that you can homeschool your high schooler who struggles with learning. You are well equipped to succeed and to help your high schooler succeed as well.
Dianne Craft has a master’s degree in learning disabilities. She speaks widely at homeschool conventions across the country. Her books, Brain Integration Therapy Manual, Right Brain Phonics Program, and her DVDs, Understanding & Helping the Struggling Learner, Teaching the Right Brain Child, Smart Kids— Who Hate to Write, and The Biology of Behavior have helped hundreds of families remove learning blocks in their struggling children at home. Visit her website, www.diannecraft.org, for many articles on children and learning and to download her free Daily Lesson Plans for the Struggling Reader and Writer.
Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.