Would you pass the California Proficiency Exam?
Facts on the California Proficiency Exam
Should students take the California Proficiency Exam?

By Name withheld
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I never really hated high school, but toward the middle of my junior year I couldn’t stand it anymore. All we did was busy work that never served a purpose, and the teachers didn’t seem to care about it. Plus there were so, so, so many rules, and I was sick of the same routine every day.

So I decided to leave.

I had a couple of lame excuses for everyone about why I wanted to go, but the real reason I chose to move on was to pursue my dream of acting. Leaving high school early would give me a head start toward my happiness in the crazy Hollywood world.

But no one supported my decision—not even my friends. They looked differently at me. "What’s your deal? Why do you want to grow up so fast?" they said. "You’re stupid. Doesn’t walking on stage for graduation mean anything?" they said. "Go ahead, because you’re gonna wish you never did," they said.

I thought about what they said and realized how afraid people are to think outside the bubble and leave their comfort zones. Some of my friends are miserable in high school, but won’t leave because they won’t go against what’s expected of them. I just wanted to live my life.

It wasn’t like I was dropping out. But I could take a test called the California High School Proficiency Exam. It’s the equivalent of a high school diploma. I first heard about the test during my sophomore year from my friend who took it. The thought of taking it was always in the back of my mind.

My mother thought the whole thing was sketchy. She feared that I’d fail the test and drop out. But there was no way I’d do that. I do value my education. If I didn’t pass the exam, then I would stay in school. But my mom’s reaction caused me to doubt myself.

All hell broke loose when I mentioned the idea to my father!

"No way!" he said. "You will graduate high school on stage and then go to college and graduate with a journalism degree."

Well, that was a beautiful plan he had there, and I could see it working, except for one thing—it wasn’t my plan.

My father told me the test was for kids who messed up in school and had no other choice with their education. Sure it was an option for them but not for a college-bound person like me, he said. My dad didn’t realize how lucky I am to know what I already want to do with my life at such a young age. Since my parents are divorced and I live with my mom, I tried to forget what he said since I don’t see him every day.

I went for it

I got my hands on the test registration. There’s a $50 application fee and the diploma is valid only in California. You must be at least a 16-year-old and enrolled in the second semester of 10th grade to take it. Parental permission is not required, but a parent must sign a paper allowing you to leave school.

There were different places to take the exam throughout California, but luckily it was offered in my hometown of Glendale at the community college. The test started at 8 a.m., and I got there a little early. There were a lot of people there to take the test. I wondered what their reasons were for taking it, so I asked a few people.

One girl wanted to go to fashion school and decided to finish high school early and get a jumpstart on her career. Others wanted to start college early. Another guy was already an actor and he wanted to take the test then get emancipated. Each person had specific reasons for taking the test.

The first part of the test was a timed essay. You picked one of two topics and had 30-minutes to write about it. After that, the test had two sections, English and math.
The math part wasn’t algebra or geometry. It had random problems that required critical thinking. The English section was the typical grammar stuff. Overall, I didn’t think the test was really easy or all that hard. It seemed fair. I walked out of the three-hour exam feeling really good about it and went home.

My mom knew that I took the test, but not my dad. I didn’t want to lie to him, so I avoided my dad for a month. When he called and asked me to visit him, I said that I couldn’t.

I had to go back to school until my test results came in the mail. Man, I really didn’t want to be in a classroom anymore. I didn’t want to do my homework, and my grades slipped. When my teachers asked where my homework was, I said it didn’t matter, because I was leaving anyway. They asked me to still do it, so I did. I don’t want to say that I stopped caring about school, but I sort of stopped trying, because I was really confident about passing the exam. Still, I knew in the back of my mind that if I didn’t pass the test, I was screwed at school.

Then one day I went out to get the mail and saw a huge envelope with my name on it. Immediately, I knew what was in it—my diploma! I ripped it open and started jumping up and down and yelling with excitement. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. My mom was happy and relieved when she heard the news. Like always, she didn’t express it much, but I could tell she was pleased.

My dad was another story. I avoided him for another month and a half. I didn’t know how to break the news to him. Soon I didn’t have to. My older brother opened his big mouth and told my dad. My brother said that he accidentally spilled it.

Out of the blue, my dad called me one night. "I heard what you did," he said with an awful tone in his voice like I had killed someone. Before I knew it, we were telling each other off over the phone. Then came the tears.
"You’re not even good enough for a high school diploma," my dad said. "You’re a stupid, ignorant 16-year-old and you’re f-ing up your life."

He was judging me so hard. I knew he looked down on me, because he was so disappointed. I didn’t care. I didn’t do this for his approval.
But the thing that killed me was when he said, "You’re going to come crying to me when you’re a 25-year-old, all depressed and lost, because you’ll NEVER make it as an actress."

I realized that my dad didn’t know what it was like to dream or follow his heart. "You don’t have to support me, but don’t ever tell your daughter that what she loves to do is wrong."
Then I hung up on him.

Life in the adult world

My life now feels like a new beginning, and I love it. I now work as an extra on a few shows like Buffy, Felicity, Roswell and a new pilot called Do Over. I worked for 10 days on a movie called Like Mike. Being on set is like taking an acting class, because I learn so much about what goes on behind the scenes.

But I want more than extra work. So I’ve enrolled in an acting class and am saving money to get a car, which is essential for acting. My friend works as an extra and drives me to the sets, but I’d rather just depend on myself. It’s going to take a long while to make it, but I’m on my way. Nothing in life is easy, but at least I’m happy.

I still haven’t spoken with my dad since our argument and don’t think that he even knows that I’m doing extra work. I plan on talking to him soon about helping me with a car.

My friends have gotten over it. I miss having lunch with them at school and things like passing notes in class and going to parties. But I’m still going to watch them all graduate next year. And there’s no way I’m missing prom night!

It’s true that I’m missing the typical high school experience. But I’m not typical. I threw myself into a new place and have learned so much about life that high school could never teach. To me, being able to work on different TV and movie sets each week is not missing out at all.