Principal Issues Threats Contrary to Law

The hypocrisy of the schools in their campaign to intimidate parents into subjecting their kids to the STAAR assessment is truly remarkable.  Any outside observers would have to be left scratching their heads.  On the one hand, schools tell parents, sometimes in forceful, nasty letters, that the law does not let parents refuse the STAAR, and that parents and schools must follow the law.  On the other hand, when parents start to assert their rights to opt out and refuse assessment, the schools waste no time in making threats against the parent and child that are contrary to law.  We always recommend that when a parent is threatened with retention, summer school or truancy, that they ask the person making the threat to send an email with all that information so the parent “can fully understand the position of the district.”  Almost without exception, the schools refuse to put it in writing because they know the threats are hollow and that what they are saying they are going to do is refuse to follow the law themselves.  But sometimes they mess up.  Sometimes they leave tracks.

Just this morning, a principal (whose name we have deleted from the message) at an elementary school called a parent regarding her son’s absence from school due to parental refusal.  The mother didn’t answer the phone, but the principal wanted to make sure that the message was delivered.  So she left it on voice mail.  Oops.  In the span of 24 seconds, the principal threatened that if the child didn’t come to school and take the STAAR assessment, he would have to have tutorials, summer school, and repeat fifth grade.  That’s one threat every 8 seconds!  And two of them demonstrate an intention to not follow the law.  Let’s give it a listen:

The SSI manual published by TEA describes the process schools must follow when a 5th grader has failed to perform at satisfactory levels on the STAAR.  For the most part it tracks the Education Code, but provides much more detail and direction.  While the manual says a failure on the first administration requires accelerated instruction, it does not say that must be in the form of tutorials.  But we will give the principal the benefit of the doubt, because they have some discretion there.  We’ll call that a minor omission, but not a lie or a refusal to follow the law.  But the next two we can’t excuse as easily.

Summer school.  Summer school is a form of accelerated instruction that takes place after a second failure and before the third assessment date.  But, as we have discussed many times, summer school is not required by the Education Code, by the TEA regulations, or by the SSI manual.  In fact, the SSI manual clearly states on p. 33 that  “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.”  Districts have flexibility.  AI could be a single class session; it could be an online tutorial done at home; it could be summer school.  So since summer school is a possibility, why is it so bad for the principal to threaten it?  Because she doesn’t get to make that decision!  Both the Education Code and the SSI manual clearly state that after a second failure, the accelerated instruction plan is to be created by the Grade Placement Committee and individualized to the student.  And who is on the Grade Placement Committee?  The principal, the subject teacher and the parent!  The parent has a vote on this.  The decision can only be made after a GPC is formed and the appropriate materials reviewed.  When the principal says that the student is going to summer school if they don’t take the STAAR, that communicates that a decision has been made and an AI plan formulated before the GPC ever meets.  This is illegal; any such “plan” is invalid; and the sole purpose of this threat is to coerce the parent.

The same goes for promotion or retention.  After the third administration, a student who has not passed the 5th grade STAAR reading will be reviewed by the GPC for the promotion or retention decision.  The factors that go into the promotion decision are a part of state law and can be found in the Education Code.  Willingness to take the STAAR is not a factor they can consider.  Rather they must look at grades in classes, teacher recommendations and STAAR scores to the extent applicable, which means if there are no scores it is not applicable at all!  Again, though this is a decision made by a committee.  When the principal states that if the student doesn’t take the STAAR he will have to be “in 5th grade again,” she is conveying that there is no way to be promoted without taking STAAR. This is untrue. She is also conveying that a decision to retain the student has been made prior to second or third administration, without the committee and without consideration of the statutory factors for promotion.

Why would a school do this?  There is one reason only: to bully and coerce the parents into subjecting their kids to assessment.  To achieve this goal, they make threats that are contrary to law and process.  Usually they don’t leave evidence of this.  Today, they slipped up.  On this 24 second voice mail, you have the problem in a nutshell.  It doesn’t matter how nice or concerned you sound.  If you are threatening not to follow the law and punish a student, you need to be corrected, and you need to take a hard look at why you are doing this.  Is a single piece of data for Pearson worth your integrity?

I’d suggest it is not.

4 Comments

  1. Geni Graham

    I sent this email to my daughter’s school. The response was extraordinary.

    “To Whom It May Concern,
    This letter is to respectfully inform you that our seventh- grade child, ____________________, will need to be excused from all mandated standardized assessments (e.g. STAAR test) from this point forward. This is also to include classroom activities that are intended as STAAR assessment preparation, such as practice assessments and assessment-taking training exercises.
    An “over reliance” on standardized high stakes testing/assessments is “strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into a broad range of learning experiences that better prepares our students to live successfully and be competitive on a global stage.
    Ten years of No Child Left Behind legislation have generated mountains of research on the negative effects of high-stakes testing. Studies show what parents already suspected, that standardized testing:
    Produces anxiety and depression, Kills curiosity and children’s desire to learn, narrows the curriculum, and wastes valuable educational time.
    Chapter 39 of the Education Code, the Legislature calls the STAAR an “Assessment” over 300 times. In the language creating it, they never refer to it as a test. It is always an assessment. An assessment and a test are not the same thing.
    Has the TEA indeed proven it is illegal to opt out of STAAR? Texas Education Code, Chapter 26, you know, the one that TEA and TASB like to rely on, there is a section in on parental access to tests. Right next to it, one for parental access to assessments. If a test and an assessment are the same thing, why do we have two different access statutes? Tests and assessments aren’t the same thing, thus you need two different statutes. And likewise, when you use the word test in 26.010, you can’t also be referring to assessments. That would be inconsistent drafting, a highly disfavored concept. We presume that the legislature chooses specific words for specific reasons. By distinguishing between assessments and tests, the Legislature forecloses the TEA’s interpretation.
    As we are morally and ethically opposed to these school activities, we are making this decision with recognition of our parental rights and obligations under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Texas Education Code (Title 2, Subtitle E, “Students and Parents, Section 26, “Parental Rights and Responsibilities”).
    As STAAR assessment success is NOT required to be promoted from the 7th grade, then, there is no valid legal reason for our child to have to travel over an hour one-way to an assessment site to submit to an assessment which has absolutely no bearing on her educational future. We would also caution you to ensure you do not negatively impact our student’s 4th quarter attendance grade by 20% for not attending this assessment as it is not legally required. She will attend class online today and tomorrow as is the norm.
    Please contact us at ____________ and/or __________________ for any questions or concerns.
    Very Respectfully,
    Geni Graham

    The Principal called and is M-A-D! Talking about truancy being filed (although this is the only absence she has had this year!!) Then, asking me why I enrolled her in a public school which requires state testing. She told me that test and assessment are synonyms. I told her that legally, synonyms don’t work. Legal work is VERY specific. I told her that her intimidation tactics are not going to work. She also said that as the Principal, she has every right to tell me what to do to in regard to my daughter’s education. I asked her to tell me where her purview ends and mine begins. She could not answer that question. In a nutshell, she said that she was going to retain my daughter in the 7th grade and file truancy charges against me. She REALLY didn’t like it when I told her,”That’s fine” every time she said it. She did NOT like the fact that I told her I don’t cave to intimidation tactics. She then said,”They’re not tactics, they are the facts!” I told her to do what she thought she needed to do and when she does, to please remember that I am educated, I read everything presenting itself to the situation, that I DO respond accordingly, and that I will not take it lying down.

    Ms. Graham,

    First of all “assessment” is a synonym for “test” so they DO mean the same thing. Here is a screenshot from http://www.thesauras.com:

    If you decide to not have your student take the state test, the STAAR, then truancy may be filed. It will also be a zero for testing participation, which is 20% of their grade.

    Again, parents do not have the option to “opt out” of the state test/assessment and your student’s attendance is REQUIRED by the Texas Education Agency as well as TXVA.

    Thank you,
    Kelly Morando

    Good afternoon, Ms. Morando!

    Too bad that the dictionary and the thesaurus aren’t the same thing either, they are both reference material for words in a language. Thanks for the snarky tutorial. It is noted.

    You have stated your position after I stated mine. It seems we are at an impasse. Please understand that there are always consequences for our actions.

    Also understand that I have not received an answer back from you in regard to where your purview as Principal ends and mine as a learning coach AND parent ends.

    You are free to do what it is you have threatened to do and I will respond accordingly.

    Have a wonderful afternoon!

    Very Respectfully,

    Geni Graham

    1. Becky

      Ms. Graham,

      I would be interested in hearing about how this situation unfolds in the weeks to come. My child attends TXVA (7th grade) and is a special education student with anxiety! She was present for the STAAR test yesterday and today. My daughter said that there were many empty seats with names on them! I wanted to opt out of state testing but I was also concerned about the repercussions. My daughter endured constant bullying in school so
      online school has been a blessing. Today, a parent at the testing site told me that if a child enrolled at TXVA did not take the STAAR tests, he/she would not be approved to enroll again the following year. I am a frustrated parent. I want to do what is best for my child and I know what is best for my child. No STAAR tests!!!!

      Also, after talking to numerous parents, I find that I am not alone in my frustration over the Class Connect sessions/Study Island not lining up with the OLS! EVERYTHING is geared to teaching to the STAAR and is time consuming. The time it takes her to get everything done is ridiculous and stressful for student and learning coach. And for the record, some of this week’s math lessons (not in the math book – financial literacy) are ridiculous for a 7th grader!

      Sincerely,
      Frustrated Parent

    2. Marie

      Geni,

      What did txedrights have to say about the virtual schools using this tactic? What did the virtual school do because we are enrolled in TXVA as well. Please follow up.

  2. Chris

    We are absolutely not alone! Most parents I speak with share the same frustration. I too am curious to see how this unfolds. Good for you to stick it to her. These days the government gets overly involved in things they know nothing about and don’t have enough interaction in issues that need to be addressed. Politics is politics but it’s not fair to drag our children through this bull shit!

    Sincerely,
    Heated mom

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