HOUSTON -- Graduation from high school usually means getting a diploma. However, in Texas, thousands of students have flunked the state-mandated TAKS test, which means no diploma.
This has created a demand for alternative ways to get a high school diploma. But 11 News discovered that some of the diplomas being offered by private schools to students who've flunked the TAKS may not help graduates get certain jobs or into some colleges.
In Texas last spring, over 50,000 high school students flunked the math portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or TAKS test. Brandy McNeil was one of them.
"I've taken it every time they've given it," said McNeil. "In February of 2005, I made a 69."
It takes a score of 70 to pass.
"That just destroyed me," said McNeil, as she sat at a table in the tiny dining area of her neat as a pin apartment in west Houston.
Without a diploma, she hasn't been able to pursue the career she wants. She said she's making $10 an hour working the phones at a debt collection agency. She wants to be a police officer, but she says when she applied for a law enforcement job with Harris County, she was denied.
"I passed the physical test, the lie detector test and the drug screening. When it came down to hiring me, I got denied because I didn't have my diploma," McNeil said.
She says she completed all her courses at Humble High School back in 2004, but can't get a diploma until she passes the TAKS.
However recently, someone told her of a solution.
"They wanted me to buy a diploma," McNeil said.
Finding one wasn't hard. High school diplomas are offered by out-of-state online schools and ones with offices here in Houston.
They appear to be the answer for tens of thousands of young Texans like Brandy McNeil who've completed all their high school courses, but can't pass the TAKS and now can't get good jobs or acceptance into college.
But McNeil did her homework. She first checked with local employers and found that some required diplomas from schools accredited by the State of Texas. She says the schools she researched were not.
She learned that you have to read the schools' websites carefully.
One private school that's based in Abilene has an office on the Katy Freeway. It is called The Masters Independent School District. Its website says it's "accredited in Texas," but elsewhere its website reveals it's accredited not by the State of Texas, but by "The First Gospel International Accreditation Commission."
The Masters ISD founder, Sherry Lyle, said if it sounds like the school is trying to claim state accreditation, it's not.
"No sir, that was never our intention," Lyle said.
She points out the school's website says is not accredited "by" Texas, but "in" Texas.
"That's the reason why further down in the website it explains that we're accredited through our own accreditation commission through our church," Lyle said.
She also said since 11 News brought the wording to her attention, the school will change it to make it less confusing
Lyle says the school has its own rigorous tests it gives before granting a diploma and that its graduates do use those diplomas to get good jobs and admittance into colleges throughout Texas.
We contacted the University of Houston which said it requires accreditation by state commissions or regional associations.
In a statement, UH said, "The University of Houston requires the school to be accredited by the Texas Education Agency, the Independent Schools Association of Texas or any regionally-accreditingassociations like the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities (SACS)."
At Houston Community College, David Joost is the director of adult education. He said he recommends gettingdiplomas only from accredited schools.
"Look at the TEA (Texas Education Agency) website, find an accredited school and go through one of those," Joost said.
One place to start is the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission. Its website ( ) allows you to check a school.
You can see how Texas students did on the TAKS by going to the TEA website: