Facing a pending deadline to answer the lawsuit filed by four Texas parents challenging the 2016 STAAR administrations for grades 3-8, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath announced major changes to 5th and 8th grade STAAR for this year. In a letter to Texas administrators, Morath announced that the TEA was “removing student consequences attached to STAAR testing for grades 5 and 8 for the remainder of the 2015-16 assessment cycle.” These changes include requiring passage for promotion or requiring accelerated instruction as a result of the STAAR results. GPC meetings (the source of promotion decisions and accelerated instruction plans) are also no longer required. In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, the Commissioner did state that he intended to use the results for accountability ratings for schools. In keeping with the detachment of consequences, the June retest for 5th and 8th graders was cancelled.
The Commissioner left open for district decisions regarding continuing planned accelerated instruction, but made clear it was not a requirement imposed by the state.
Attorneys for the parents stated that they were reviewing the TEA’s announcement and awaiting the answer to the lawsuit.
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?
Note: the article refers to a single year suspension of Math SSI requirements. It is left up here as additional examples of schools lying about STAAR. However, the issue discussed in this article is not applicable to any other year. That discussion is obsolete.
Tonight, I again received a question from a parent whose 8th grade child had been told by a teacher that they would fail 8th grade if they did not pass the Math STAAR test. This is about the fifth report of this that I have heard this year.
To recap, the State of Texas implemented new Math TEKS this year. This resulted in pushing down math instruction sometimes by as much as two grade levels. Thankfully, the Texas Education Agency did the right thing and suspended the requirement that 5th and 8th graders pass the STAAR covering all this new material in order to qualify for promotion to the next grade. In other words, Math STAAR doesn’t matter for promotion this year.
Still, teachers and principals are telling students they will be retained if they don’t pass. This is untrue. It is clearly designed to scare kids and parents into taking and performing well on the STAAR math assessment. The belief underlying this approach is that without a punishment, students cannot learn. This is a very primitive and disturbing educational philosophy and seems to totally ignore the physical and psychological manifestations that STAAR stress has put on our kids.
It’s time to stop the lying and the pressure and get back to learning for the sake of learning. If your child’s school is threatening retention based on STAAR math results this year, please report it to TPERN using our Incident Report form.