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Prep or Pay: Aledo ISD Threatens Fines for STAAR Prep

According to parents, an Aledo ISD 4th grade class has been told to prep or pay!  While this is extreme (and in fact may reflect some type of fake reward money), the obsession with testing and test prep leaps off the page at you.  Consider this the next time someone tells you that STAAR prep isn’t driving the curriculum:

  1. Every day  a seven question prep packet goes home to the student.  Every single day.  During the course of the run up to STAAR, you can expect almost 200 STAAR prep questions from math class alone, without respect to any homework based on the actual curriculum!
  2. Some of the questions, which will be graded, will come from material that has not been taught yet!! How is this sound educational practice?  If we want a student to learn something, TEACH IT!
  3. Extensive classroom time will be taken up going over STAAR prep questions every single day! 
  4. Consequences attach to not completing the STAAR prep.  Because nothing says learning like threats and punishment.  Remember, monetary fines!
  5. Parents are instructed not to help their kids and in fact to specifically deny help.  Why?  Because that is how the STAAR does it.

The mindset behind these spring STAAR policies is as warped as the curriculum.  Aledo ISD should denounce this ill conceived plan and focus on learning, not prepping for standardized assessments.

Please see the update here.

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“What Are You Teaching Your Kids?”

Sigh.  It’s that time of year.  Despite clear rules on discussion pages that preclude the debate over the motives or wisdom of opt out parents, we get several people every year who have to post nonsense such as “life is hard” and “what are you teaching your children?”  So here’s a brief answer to that presumptuous and asinine question.

Not that it is any of your business how I choose to raise my kids, but when we Opt Out of STAAR, we are teaching our kids to stand against injustice.

“Oh, but this isn’t a lunch counter sit in or Jim Crow,” you say. What a silly parent to see injustice in STAAR assessment. Right?  Wrong.  Understand exactly how STAAR works and how it victimizes.

English II EOC is a graduation requirement. 85% of ELL students fail it every time it is administered. Six years in and the TEA has no plan to remedy this. This is a system that condemns that subgroup to failure. So yes, I will stand against that injustice.

SpecED, 504, and LD kids fail STAAR at a disproportionately high rate. Then schools react by stripping them of electives and placing them in test prep classes while their peers enjoy curriculum enriching activities they are denied. So yes, I will stand against that injustice.

Neighborhood schools are closed down in overwhelming and predominantly minority and impoverished communities. This disrupts communities, families (long bus rides to new schools), and diminishes parent involvement. You NEVER see that happen in Lake Highlands, Westlake or River Oaks. So yes, I will stand against that injustice.

You apparently see no problem with that and choose not to stake a stand. So my question is, what exactly are you teaching your kids?

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STAAR OPT OUT WEBINAR – May 1

Txedrights is pleased to present our first STAAR Opt Out webinar.  Join TPERN Chairman Scott Placek and panelists Caite Brooks, Sarah and Ben Becker and Edy Chamness as they discuss the legalities and practicalities of Opting Out of STAAR.  The webinar is free and can be joined by going here: Webinar Link at 8 p.m. on Monday, May 1.  Sherry Neeley will be answering questions in the chatroom during the webinar and at the conclusion of the presentation we’ve set aside 20-30 minutes for participants to ask their own questions.

Webinar Agenda

A. Why We Opt Out – Ben, Sarah and Edy – 10 minutes

B. The Legal Intricacies (and Practical Requirements) of Opting Out – Scott and Caite – 10 minutes

C. Promotion, Retention and Accelerated Instruction – Scott and Caite – 10 minutes

D. Opt Out Evangelism – Edy, Ben and Sarah – 10 minutes

E. Q&A – Everyone – 30 minutes

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IGC Graduation Does NOT Require Two Failed Attempts on EOCs

Update 2017-2018: We are pleased to note that ESC 12 has removed the two attempt/two failure language from their updated Powerpoints.

It’s always something.  For whatever reason, misinformation spreads faster in school districts than lice. And much like lice, the students are always the ones who get the raw end of the deal.  Although we ought to be well past the point of arguing about this, apparently ESCs and school counselors are spreading blatantly incorrect information about the eligibility of students to graduate under an IGC. In the Texans Take Action Against STAAR Facebook group today, a counselor posted this completely erroneous statement regarding eligibility for IGC graduation:

“She will need to attempt the test and fail two times before the scores can be accepted or before she is eligible for an IGC .” (emphasis added).

Now, let’s look at what the law actually says.  First, let’s consider the Texas Education Code.  This is the statute that creates IGC graduation pathways.  Although the TEA commissioner may enact rules to implement the statute, he may not add to it.  He may not impose on the student greater burdens than the legislature put upon them.  Likewise ESCs, ISDs and individual schools may not impose stricter standards than the law requires. The relevant section is § 28.0258

(a) This section applies only to an 11th or 12th grade student who has failed to comply with the end-of-course assessment instrument performance requirements under Section 39.025 for not more than two courses.

(b) For each student to whom this section applies, the school district that the student attends shall establish an individual graduation committee at the end of or after the student’s 11th grade year to determine whether the student may qualify to graduate as provided by this section.

First, note that there is no language limiting the application of the section to students who have attempted and failed their EOCs twice.  The limit is that they can be lacking no more than two assessments for graduation.  Section (b) tells us that if this section applies to them, the school shall establish an IGC committee to determine whether the student qualifies to graduate.  This is mandatory – not permissive – language.  The statute then lays out the factors that the committee must consider in “determining whether a student for whom an individual graduation committee is established is qualified to graduate.”   Not included in the 15 factors set by statute is any requirement of additional attempts to pass the EOC.

While this should settle the question, let’s look at what the Commissioner’s Rules enacting this section say. The commissioner may impose necessary rules to implement the statute.  ESCs, districts and schools cannot add additional requirements.

§74.1025. Individual Graduation Committee Review.

(a)  Effective beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, in accordance with the Texas Education Code (TEC), §28.0258, §101.3022 of this title (relating to Assessment Requirements for Graduation), and the course requirements in Chapter 74, Subchapter B, of this title (relating to Graduation Requirements), a school district or an open-enrollment charter school may award a high school diploma to a student who has taken but failed to achieve the end-of-course (EOC) assessment graduation requirements for no more than two courses if the student has qualified to graduate by means of an individual graduation committee.

Arguably, the Commissioner has added to the statute with the requirement that the student have taken the EOC assessment.  But even having done that, neither here nor any any other part of the rule, has the commissioner inserted a double attempt/double failure requirement.  So why are schools spreading (and I assume implementing) this obviously incorrect interpretation of the law.  Enter the ESCs.

Texas has a number of Educational Service Centers dispersed across the state to support local districts in their area.  These ESCs give presentations, formulate guides, and generally provide administrative assistance to districts.  But they aren’t lawyers and they aren’t exceptionally overstaffed.  So when one ESC puts something new out, other ESCs pick it up and run with it.  And that is what has happened with the IGC process.  Even though the current FAQ on the TEA website contains no reference whatsoever to a double attempt/double failure rule, some ESCs started propogating this as fact.  Offenders include Denise Bell/ESC 12, ESC 10 which is circulating an incorrect flow chart from Garland ISD. Educational consultants Moak Casey analyzed the bill and came up with no such double failure requirement.

It is not clear where this idea originated, though there are two possibilities.  The first possibility is confusion over the TSI substitution requirements.  When SB 149 was passed, the legislature also provided that if a student has passed Texas’s college readiness assessment for Math or English (the TSI test) they may substitute that passage for failure on Math or English as applicable.  However, the legislature did put a restriction on this ability to substitute.  The TSI substitution provision states:

A student who, after retaking an end-of-course assessment instrument for Algebra I or English II, has failed to perform satisfactorily as required by Subsection (a), but who receives a score of proficient on the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) diagnostic assessment for the corresponding subject for which the student failed to perform satisfactorily on the end-of-course assessment instrument satisfies the requirement concerning the Algebra I or English II end-of-course assessment, as applicable.

This is what a retake/double failure requirement looks like.  But this language is not in the IGC provision.  It is found only as a pre-requisite for substituting TSI scores for EOC assessments in meeting graduation requirements.  Since the legislature in the same bill knew how to add such a requirement, it is patently unreasonable to assume they meant to add it to a section which it is noticeably absent from.  Still, it is possible that some administrators may have assumed that the same requirements for substituting TSI scores applied to eligibility for IGCs. But they are different statutes and such an assumption is simply wrong.

The other possibility for confusion lies in a very simple provision that means nothing more than what it says.  Toward the end of the IGC statute, the law states:

Notwithstanding any action taken by an individual graduation committee under this section, a school district shall administer an end-of-course assessment instrument to any student who fails to perform satisfactorily on an end-of-course assessment instrument as provided by Section 39.025(b).

Now this section is not a double failure requirement.  All this does is provide that even if an IGC approves graduation for a student, the school must continue to give them the assessments they have failed.  We know it is not an eligibility provision because it begins by presuming that an IGC already has been formed and taken action.  If that happens before any re-test, there can’t be a re-test requirement.  No.  This just tells a school to keep offering the assessment no matter what the IGC does.  It notably does not require the student to be present, to take it, or to perform at any given level.  Likewise it does not provide any authority to revisit the IGC decision if the student refuses or is absent from the administration of the EOC.  Again, this is very obvious to any lawyer who reads the statute.  This can’t be a pre-requisite to eligibility  because it presumes that the student is eligible and some action has been taken.  However, to a non-lawyer trying to decipher this statute, it is possible it could be confused with a re-test requirement.  But it isn’t one.

Truly the most maddening issue with the two test/two failure interpretation is that it does not come from the TEA.  Nothing on the TEA website even hints at it.  Not that this trumps the actual language of the law, but if there was something as basic as a two attempt/two failure requirement, you would expect to see that front and center in those types of words in the TEA guidance.  The absence of such language speaks as loudly as the statute itself.  Rather, some administrator somewhere thought they would make this up, and everyone else followed along . . .  all to the detriment of the student.  Hopefully no students will actually be harmed by this.  However, if you run into schools communicating such a construction, please report them to us and if your student is affect, obtain legal counsel promptly.

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Breaking . . . Lost STAAR Exams

Reports from Houston are that assessment booklets and coded scantrons for over 20 HISD schools, KIPP and Spring ISD have been lost.  Campus administrators are being required to pick up replacements and uncoded scantrons tonight.  Students will be required to fill their scantrons with all necessary identifying information in the morning, increasing the possibility of reporting error.  This will greatly delay the start of administration tomorrow.  In addition, the loss of the coded instruments represents a great test security issue.

Comment from the TEA has been requested.

Update:  The TEA has refused to comment on the reported loss of assessment and scantron books.

tea wont respond

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TPERN Responds to Houston ISD Warning Letter

The Houston Chronicle recently published an article noting that Houston ISD had sent a warning letter to parents who opted out of STAAR assessment.  The letter was full of legal and factual errors, but was also notable for its blatant declaration that mandatory summer school awaits all kids who have opted out of STAAR.  This is contrary to law.  TPERN’s response is found below.  This response will be sent to Houston ISD, the Chronicle and Houston CVPE.

Regarding the recent article:  HISD letter warns parents against opting out of tests (4/24/15)

In the Chronicle’s coverage of the CVPE alternative learning event, the following quote correctly summarized the ability of parents to refuse standardized assessment for their children.

“”The fact is parents can request their child be removed from standardized testing,” said Elaina Polsen, executive director of communications with Clear Creek ISD”.

Unfortunately, Houston ISD apparently cannot comprehend that there is no method in statute to force assessment.  Parents cannot and will not be compelled to submit to standardized assessment of their children.  Instead, Houston ISD and Mr. Gohl have chosen the route of fear-mongering and intimidation to try to persuade parents to provide data on an assessment that has serious validity issues.  In so doing, however, Mr. Gohl has apparently announced that it is Houston ISD, and not the parents, that will refuse to follow the Education Code.  Such a posture is intolerable, and Mr. Gohl or those who formulated this illegal policy should be immediately terminated.  Lawless behavior should not be rewarded with a paycheck from the taxpayers.

I refer to the following line from Mr. Gohl’s letter to the parents of opt-out kids.  “[S]tudents will be required to attend summer school and will be reevaluated by the Grade Placement Committee prior to the end of summer school for a determination of promotion or retention.”  Mr. Gohl even bolded and underlined “attend summer school” so parents would know he is serious.  Mr. Gohl is not following the law.

Section 28.0211(c) of the Texas Education Code provides:

After a student fails to perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument a second time, a grade placement committee shall be established to prescribe the accelerated instruction the district shall provide to the student before the student is administered the assessment instrument the third time.  The grade placement committee shall be composed of the principal or the principal’s designee, the student’s parent or guardian, and the teacher of the subject of an assessment instrument on which the student failed to perform satisfactorily.” (emphasis added).

Now, the second administration has not occurred yet.  As a result, no Grade Placement Committees have been formed and no course of accelerated instruction can have been prescribed.  Indeed, the parent is a member of the committee and must be involved in developing the Accelerated Instruction plan.  Yet, Mr. Gohl seems to suggest that the decision has been made.  Summer school is required . . . for everyone.  If this is the case, Houston ISD is in plain violation of the law, and has not prescribed a valid accelerated instruction plan.  I would suggest that if Houston ISD is concerned about following the Education Code, it look at itself first.  Get rid of petty bureaucrats like Mr. Gohl who think that the law does not apply to them.

I would also note that a one size fits all summer school prescription goes against everything the concept of Accelerated Instruction is intended to address.  The TEA’s Student Success Initiative Manual is clear on this:

Neither the law nor the rules specify the amount of time to be provided for the accelerated instruction. To support the SSI grade-advancement requirements, the law and the commissioner’s rules provide districts and charter schools with flexibility to determine on an individual student basis the appropriate form, content, and timing of the accelerated instruction. The policy governing accelerated instruction is intended to allow districts flexibility to meet individual student needs.” (p. 33).

The idea the summer school is required for STAAR failures is a myth.  The idea that schools can unilaterally impose it is a myth.  Mr. Gohl knows this, but he chooses to ignore the law and try to scare parents into submitting their kids for assessment.

This type of behavior by a public servant is intolerable and I call on the Houston ISD to repudiate it immediately.

Sincerely,

 

R. Scott Placek
Chairman
Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network

Note: This response does not address numerous other legal errors contained in the letter from Houston ISD.

Update:  Houston ISD has admitted the letter to Opt Out parents contained errors regarding required summer school.  The blame this on an editing error.  Full article here.

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Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network Launches Website

In response to numerous inquiries for assistance in issues relating to standardized testing, the Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network has been established to provide a clearinghouse for the sharing of resources and for the collection of reports on school district responses to the exercise of parental and student educational rights.  The network website can be found at www.txedrights.net.

This website will initially focus on issues of standardized testing, English Language Learners and special education.  We hope, in time, to expand to provide resources and assistance in areas of bullying and sexual misconduct.  In addition, we are in the process of developing a network of cooperating attorneys who will agree to provide reduced cost initial consultations with concerned families.