Updated January 19, 2021
STAAR season is upon us. And with it comes the annual posting of opinions, “law” and procedures that people have been told are true or represent a sure path to successful refusal of the assessment. In this post, we discuss seven common myths that represent things that schools say, that parents say or that simply float around as truisms, when they are not!
Myth #1. If you opt out, your child cannot be promoted.
Other than for grades 5 and 8, promotion is not tied to performance on the STAAR assessment. While some local school boards may have a different policy, most follow the state law and only require STAAR passage for promotion in Grades 5 and 8. Check your ISD board policy EIE (Local) for your specific rules. By the way, even for Grades 5 and 8, the statute provides a pathway to promotion for students who fail or refuse to take the STAAR assessment.
Myth #2. A school cannot retain a child unless the parent agrees.
Each school district can set its standard for promotion and retention. They do not need your permission to retain your student. For students who did not pass STAAR or who opted out in Grades 5 and 8, the decision to promote the student must be unanimous from the Grade Placement Committee (which includes you as a parent). The decision to retain does not have to be unanimous.
Myth #3. Students are required by law to take the STAAR test.
Schools are required by law to assess students. An administrative regulation suggests that the students must be assessed. The statute places no obligation on a student or parent to take the assessment and provides no mechanism to compel participation.
Myth #4. A student who fails the STAAR or opts out must go to summer school.
Schools are required to offer students who do not perform satisfactorily on the STAAR what is called “accelerated instruction.” There is no specific definition of what constitutes AI or when it must take place. There is absolutely no rule that requires it to occur during the summer or on the school’s campus. A school has a high degree of flexibility to design an AI plan appropriate for each student, and parents have successfully refused on campus summer instruction or designed their own AI programs with no negative consequences.
Myth #5. There is a difference between Opting Out and Refusing the Assessment
This myth is based on the idea that our legal system operates using magic words. It doesn’t. Whether you are informing the school that you intend to Opt Out or Refuse, you are conveying the same message: that you will not permit your child to be assessed. The key here is to be clear with the school that you are not asking permission; you are simply informing them of your decision.
Myth #6. The Supreme Court has decided that parents have the right to refuse assessments for their kids.
There is absolutely no case law on this point at the Supreme Court level. People who perpetuate this myth take decisions that looked at the right to private education, or did not even deal with schooling, and try to stretch the language to fit standardized testing. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of cases involving curricular issues are decided against parents who are trying to exempt their child from curricular choices made by the school. However, we have never found a case where the court has said that a school may compel participation against a parent’s decision, even where the parent accepts the consequences of non-participation. We believe this is a fundamentally different question than those cases that seek exemption without consequence.
Myth #7. If you Opt Out, you must keep your child home the full week due to make up dates.
This may be a myth or it may be true. Some schools have used common sense and permitted students to return to class on make up days without completing the assessment. Those schools usually require the student to write refused on the assessment booklet. So this is something a parent can negotiate with a school. If you go this route, arrange it beforehand and be present for the refusal. Make sure your child knows that they should not take the assessment without hearing from you directly. You may want to have a “password” that the child must hear before they agree to take the assessment. Another option if schools refuse to permit a return to class is to keep your child home in the morning until it is too late in the day to start the STAAR. The STAAR cannot be administered unless time for the full testing window remains in the school day.
Myth #8. A school can’t retain a student with all passing grades just for failing STAAR.
Sadly in 5th and 8th grade this is not true. In all other grades, including high school, grade level promotion is not based on passing STAAR. However, in 5th or 8th grade, it is absolutely possible for a student to pass all classes, fail STAAR, and be retained. This is part of what makes high stakes assessment so abhorrent. Now, the reality is that almost no kids who are passing their classes are retained for failing STAAR, but it is irresponsible to suggest somehow that it can’t happen. It also makes STAAR look less punitive than it is, and that minimizes the incentive of people to work to change the testing regime.
Myth #9. They can’t keep you from graduating if you are passing all your classes
Again, not true. The law requires a student to pass all five EOC assessments to be assured of graduation. If a student passes 3 out of 5, they may be approved for graduation by the Individual Graduation Committee. However, this is not automatic. Even if the student gets to an IGC, the IGC can still deny graduation to a student, even a student with passing grades in all classes. The IGC is not bound to graduate anyone, and each year students with passing grades still do not graduate at the IGC level. It’s not common, but it happens. And if the student has not passed three assessments, they never get to the IGC. (Different rules apply for Special Ed students, and the assessment count may vary for students transferring into Texas from another state or from a private school). High school parents should review our article What About High School? for more information on opt out and the high school student.
Myth #10. There really is no option to Opt Out of STAAR
Just shut up. Thousands of parents opt out their kids out of STAAR every year. The schools do not have to agree with it, they do not have to (and likely will not) give permission and they do not have to make it easy (though any true professional would). There is absolutely no means created by statute for the school to compel the attendance and participation of any student in STAAR assessments. Arguably, a statutory right to opt our exists, but even if it doesn’t, this is still a parental decision that the school has no means to override. Schools don’t get to decide what is OPTING OUT and what is not. This type a language is an attempt to control the narrative and intimidate parents. As parents we need to stop enabling this kind of nonsense talk. You can keep your kid home, or send them and have them not answer a single question. Done, you have OPTED to take your kid OUT of the data driven assessment game. You win. Just don’t tolerate this idiotic language game for a minute.