Tag: hb 4545

SUCCESS: Success Everywhere with Everything!

From CWade

I have 3 children. My opt out began in 2019.  Why? Because my oldest (in 4th grade) had developed acute cerebella ataxia. Although at the time we didn’t know it. Took us months to find the right neurologist to diagnose him. (From a strep infection, no less).  This made his brain not function well. He couldn’t stand up without losing his balance, dizzy all the time, couldn’t concentrate, had a hard time comprehending instruction, multitasking, etc. Loud noises and brightness were hard on him. School became a difficult time for a once very healthy kid.

 

We decided to place him in a Medical 504, with the urging of his neurologist. Who happened to tell us Jacob doesn’t have to take STAAR. (Dr. Josh Rotenberg). He did not tell me about your group, just said he doesn’t have to take it.

 

I decided to do some research. We successfully opted him out in 2019.  Briargrove Elementary, HISD.

 

I know in 2020 it was an option, but we still opted out him and his brother, Zachary, who was in 3rd grade and now supposed to take STAAR. Neither child did. (5th grade & 4th grade). Also, their teacher, Ms. Nicole McDonald, 4th grade is awesome. She has had both my boys now and ready. By this time (2020), I had found this group on Facebook. I watched, I read, I followed.

 

2021, my oldest is now at Tanglewood Middle School (HISD) for 6th grade and I thought I would get push back. I turned in the letter available from this group. School had no issues. We made a plan for where Jacob would go during testing, and he could still attend. (Due to his ataxia, he does miss some school and I would not let the school have me keep him home. There’s plenty of schoolwork he can do on campus). I made sure to send the letter to the Dean of Innovation (school broken into 2 groups), cc’d each subject teacher, the school counselor (I think she wears many hats, ie testing coordinator??), and the principal. I was not going to have a staff member say, “we didn’t know”. Tanglewood was very respectful and did not push back once.

 

2021, my middle, Zachary had Ms. McDonald, 4th grade, and she was patiently waiting for my letter. (Briargrove Ele. -HISD). I also sent the testing coordinator, each subject teacher, principal and vice principal my letter.

 

*side note* between 2020-2021 we had Zachary tested for dyslexia from a previous teacher reaching out to us and recommend it. He was placed on a 504 for Dyslexia.

 

2020-2021, my daughter, Lauren is now in 3rd grade. I sent the same letter to her teacher and the same players as Zachary, a different teacher though. No push back here.

 

I was also approached for HB4545 for Zachary (2020/2021: can’t remember exact year). Let me tell you, Mrs. Berlin (Briargrove) was very sneaky about this: all sweet and innocent stating it will help him in the areas he needs help in. Thankfully I took it home and read and reread it. Right about the time this page was talking about it. Finding information from this page, I said absolutely not. Then made sure the 3:1 teacher ratio was clicked. (It was not and I changed it immediately for all 3 of my kids).

 

2021-2022, bad year for Zachary at school with teachers not cooperating in his 504 accommodations and not taking what I explained to them to heart (ie, how kid operates, what motivates him, etc.). I’m fighting to advocate for him. I made formal complaints.

 

But I was still able to successfully opt him out. Same letter, dated for that year and all the same players.

 

Lauren gets to 4th grade and she has Ms. McDonald. We LOVE her! She reached out to check if we are opting Lauren out and I said yes, she said “I’ll wait for your letter”.

 

So, for all my kids, I have sent the same letter you guys provide with all the legal verbiage. I change according to year and kid. I also make sure I send HB4545 for each of them at the beginning of the year.  This year, for my 5th grader, the new testing coordinator requested that I fill out a form for STAAR opt out, which I posted on Texans Against STAAR asking for some advice as the letter was not all correct.  I crossed out the points that were not correct and initialed that and signed the letter along with requesting them to make sure a copy of the Opt Out Letter I sent it to be placed in her school file.

I have not had any push back for practice/interim assessments.  All three of my kids go to school on those days and we have a plan in place.  To work on school items or read or something that is quiet and constructive.  They all are placed in a conference room with a staff member checking on them.   (I do this because the 2021-2022 school year, my 5th grader and4th grader were placed in the hallway during the entire assessment time and when I found out, I let the school have it, politely of course, but placing kids in a hallway with no one around for 4 hours is unacceptable in my books.  So now, I make sure they have a comfortable place to be other than a hallway).

 

Now, next year I will have high school to worry about so I am saving and reading all I can from this website.  I cannot thank all of you enough for this.   On the note of high school, my son was able to get into Westside High School Engineering program with his Matrix score (over 900) WITHOUT the STAAR scores.  It goes to show you, it is not valid.  (Even when I spoke to Lamar High Scholl and Westside, I asked about the STAAR and explained to them that my children do not take it and how do I make sure he has a chance for a seat?  They both told me, they will go by Matrix and the 7th grade year report card).

 

This is my success story.  (I have 2 kids on a 504 and one GT and they do not take STAAR).  I am respectful, polite, yet firm and I don’t back down.  It is due to this group that I gained the confidence to stand my ground and advocate for my children.  It was very nerve wracking at first but once I turned in the first letter and the school understood I was not going to budge, I did not receive any push back.

My School Took My Kid’s Elective and Put Them In STAAR Classes!

Despite the clear language of the law, some schools have denied parental opt out from accelerated instruction and placed kids into STAAR prep classes.  After you have submitted your opt out, you must follow up if your child has been denied access to electives.  For that reason, we’ve added a new follow up letter to get those electives back.  This video below will walk you through the letter.

“Unfortunately There is No Opt Out” – Try Again, Schools!

Tired of those school district letters saying “there is no opt out” for accelerated instruction under HB 4545?  Me too.  Because it’s not only a lie, it’s deliberate ignorance.  A minute of reading makes it clear. They’ve got me ranting tonight.

HB 4545 Isn’t So Bad      

Ok, I’m lying.  It is a ridiculous and an incredibly stupid piece of legislation, thrown together and pushed down onto schools with no grassroots input or support by a bunch of knee jerk politicians in thrall to for profit tutoring, software, and publishing companies.  It reinforces both the idea that STAAR is a valid measure of anything, and that raising performance on STAAR is of vital import to the state.  It furthers the transfer of needed education dollars from the classroom to the hands of political cronies.  Business as usual in #TxEd.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about whether – from the perspective of the parent – HB 4545 makes things better or worse, and more specifically whether it should have any impact at all on the decision to opt out of assessment.  I am going to say right up front, it is a net positive for parents and should make the decision to opt out easier, rather than harder.  How do I come to this conclusion?

1 – HB 4545 Eliminates STAAR Based Promotion and Retention

The greatest deterrent that schools ever held over Opt Out parents was the threat of retention in 5th and 8th grade.  Of course, it was really just a threat as we never saw a single Opt Out student retained.  In fact, the very few instances of a retention based on STAAR that we were familiar with involved students who actually attempted but failed the assessment.  For students that were absent or refused, we never saw a single student retained.  But now, even that threat is gone, eliminated by HB 4545.  Now some schools are pointing to TEA and Education code guidance the STAAR results must be “considered” as part of promotion, and that language does exist, but we have to dwell in reality.  When STAAR WAS a promotion requirement, nobody with passing grades was being retained over STAAR.  Now that it is  no longer a requirement, that simply isn’t going to change.  All districts have a promotion policy, and as the policies are amended to reflect HB 4545, I do not expect to see STAAR mentioned explicitly in any of them.  Moreover, if you do not take it, or refuse it without answering, there really is no data to “consider.”  This is another reason we do not recommend choosing all one answer or random bubbling.  Those tactics do create data.  Particularly in random bubbling, it will be exceedingly difficult to disavow your data.

2 – The Accelerated Instruction (AI/Tutoring) Has Always Existed

Amazingly, as HB 4545 came into play, I have seen parents come into an anti-STAAR group and bemoan how much they would like to opt out, but they just cannot fathom their child having 30, 60 or even 90 hours of tutoring to complete.  But this complaint just shows how easily swayed parents are by the rhetoric of these schools.  The schools warn “HB 4545 TUTORING!” as if the sky is falling, but any parent who has opted out in the past will tell you that the schools have always tried to impose accelerated instruction on Opt Out kids and STAAR failers alike.  And they have done it in the summer.  And they have done it in the school year. They’ve done it outside school hours.  And yes, it was and always has been “subject to compulsory attendance.”  There is nothing new here from HB 4545. The only thing new here is that HB 4545 has put a number of hours on it.  Now, in a sense that is a step backwards, because the previous statute did not specify an amount of AI to be completed. The SSI manual confirmed this and said the school could tailor it to the needs of the students.  Many parents were successful in arguing that they could meet the requirements with a 15-minute online worksheet.  So, in a sense the 30-hour mandate is a step backward.  But in reality, it is MUCH BETTER than what students often faced.  Especially as we hit middle school and high school, the standard approach of the schools was to conduct AI by taking away electives from kids and sticking them into full year, full class period STAAR prep “classes”.  The state even tacitly encouraged this by providing a pot of money for these AI classes that schools could use to cover portions of their teacher salaries. Consultants would advise districts on how to maximize their funds with these STAAR prep classes, so you can imagine schools were reluctant to let kids escape them.  So rather the 30 hours of AI per subject, students might see 175 hours per subject, but it was hidden as a “class.” What we do know is that almost every opt out was followed by a fight over preserving electives and declining AI.  So, while HB 4545 has put numbers to this tutoring requirement, it really has not added anything new.  And I think most students who were stuck in a STAAR prep class would have happily traded that for 30 hours of tutoring.

3 – It is Easier to Decline the AI

So, having accepted that one concrete downside of HB 4545 is a set number of hours for AI, why does this not bother me more?  Simple.  The TEA has given us a gift. Now, we have always held that opt out applies to accelerated instruction.  We have authored multiple articles and form letters for this purpose.  But this year, the TEA actually examined the issue.  More importantly, they did so in a way that makes clearer what they believe.  TEA guidance is always very murky and equivocal.  When they first put out their HB 4545 FAQ, they already anticipated our opt out approach and advised that “NO” a parent cannot opt out of HB 45454 AI.  But then something happened.  They went back and rethought that answer.  And while their analysis of the question is not as sharp as it should be, it does recognize that HB 4545 AI falls into the same category as almost every other opt out situation – no language that removes it from opt out, and no specific opt out written into the bill.  What they do not say is that when this is the case, we apply the general opt out rule of 26.010 — which means you can definitely opt out.  And the TEA communicates this in two ways: first, the FAQ no longer says “NO.”  Granted it is about three paragraphs of equivocation, but at the end it notes that schools can accommodate these parental decisions via INFORMAL process.  This means you do not have to file an appeal or a grievance.  There is not a hearing process.  You can simply give your notice; the school can remove the child from AI, noting your opt out, and all parties will have followed the law.  We never had this with AI under the Student Success Initiative.  So, while the length of AI floor is higher under HB 4545, the ability to remove your student from it is now affirmed by the TEA.

4 – Students Are Not Subject to Losing Electives

Finally, one of the true fears that parents used to have over opting out was that as a result of AI, their student would be denied electives.  If the kid was an artist, athlete or just in need of an enriching curriculum, opting out threatened to interfere with those objectives.  Now most parents could usually negotiate some kind of compromise; but not always.  We dealt with some stubborn and punitive districts.  Thankfully, they were the exception and not the rule.  But there was almost always a process and a negotiation.  Under HB 4545, a school is forbidden to remove a student from foundation or enrichment curriculum or PE to administer tutoring.  So, loss of electives should no longer be an issue.

As I look at HB 4545 from a parent’s perspective, while I find it annoying, I also find that on balance the situation is far, far better for parents.  Worse for schools to be sure; worse for teachers also.  But I am here from the parent perspective.  Does HB 4545 make it harder or easier to fight STAAR by opting out and refusing to be part of the data collection for the TEA?  It clearly makes it easier.  It clearly lowers the stakes.  And this is true from both a theoretical and practical standpoint.  Any parent who raises HB 4545 as a reason not to opt out has not studied either the history of AI or the full scope of HB 4545 and its implementation.  As opt out parents, HB 4545 is a mere annoyance at worst, and a help at best.

OPTING OUT – Step by Step

How to Opt Out/Decline/Refuse STAAR

January 2024 Update: This article has been updated to reflect the practice of the TEA which permits schools to accept parental refusals without placing the assessment in front of the student.

In response to a lot of “how do I do this” questions, we’ve put together this step by step guide on opting out.  This is a general guide of the various steps and forms a parent can follow to Opt Out of the STAAR assessment. If you are looking for an easy, non-confrontational approach, we can’t offer you that. Schools have been instructed to state that they can’t permit it. Some schools go further and falsely claim that state or federal law requires all students to take the STAAR assessments. Others even make implicit or overt threats to parents.

So while all of our forms and letters are polite and civil, there is no guarantee that your school district will work with you. Fortunately, the past few years have brought more cooperation and the chances for a better outcome are greater than ever.  But if you are met with resistance, you still hold the power.  As Peggy Robertson of United Opt Out said, opting out is, at its heart, an act of civil disobedience. So join the hundreds and thousands of parents locally, statewide and nationally who are standing up and speaking out against the standardization of our children’s education.

STEP ONE:

Inform the school that you intend to opt out of the assessment. You are not asking them to let you. You are telling them your decision. You can use the Master Opt Out letter, and customize it to your needs.

A lot of parents have asked whether you must tell the school.  If you simply intend to refuse the assessment, you do not.  However, if you want to preserve the argument that Texas law permits you to Opt Out, you must give notice as described in the Opt Out letters.  We also encourage notice so that the school understands that the assessment system is being protested by the parents.

 

STEP TWO:

It is extremely unlikely you will receive a response from the school indicating that your child will not be administered the STAAR.  You will almost certainly receive a response from the school telling you they can’t permit it. At that time you can send either the response letter (if they are citing legalities) or a follow up refusal letter (if they simply say they can’t allow it).  In that case, go to STEP THREE.

Some schools have taken to simply acknowledging the letter which leaves the parent in a bit of limbo.  They acknowledge they received the letter but they don’t tell you what they are going to do.  We take this as an opportunity to explore the refusal option.  If you get one of these non-committal acknowledgements, we recommend you send a facilitated refusal request (form forthcoming).

If the facilitated refusal request is agreed to, you simply need to follow up and iron out the details (will you stay home on the main administration day, if not where will she go, do they need you or her to sign anything, etc).  You may get emailed with the list of “consequences” for refusing.  Now is not the time to engage that list.  Now is the time to get a refusal set up.  You can simply acknowledge that you understand what they have communicated to you.  If your request for a facilitated refusal is granted, continue to STEP FIVE.  Otherwise go to STEP THREE.

STEP THREE:

At this point, unless the school relents, you will need to make a decision. The choices of the parent here are multiple:

(A) Keep your child home on STAAR days. If you choose (A), you must be aware of not only the primary test days, but the full testing window. Schools may assess students after the main STAAR administration day as long as it is within the window. Testing windows may be found here.  (2023-2024 Calendar, as TEA appears to have made its calendar page private!!) Now a school is not REQUIRED to use the full testing window, but they can.  Unless you learn that they school has completed all assessments and returned the testing materials to the state, then you should assume the entire window might be used.  NOTE: the assessment windows are very long now, and it may be difficult to completely stay out of all assessment days.

(B) Send them for the assessment and instruct them to page to the end  without answering any questions, submit it and confirm their submission.  This is a far easier option than refusing a paper administration ever was.  This is because the assessment can be submitted blank without ever interacting with the proctor.  Although some schools are adding steps of telling students to raise their hands before submitting, that is not a requirement.  Instruct your student to just submit it when they get to the end, being careful not to answer any questions along the way.  If you choose (B) be aware the some schools have told children during testing that their parents just called and said it was OK to take the assessment. Should you go this route, create a password that the child must hear before they take the assessment. If the teacher can’t repeat it, the child doesn’t take the assessment.  Refusing in this manner can be done without any notice to the school at all, although we strongly urge parents to make a written record of their protest.

(C) Keep your kid home the main day of STAAR and then return and refuse the assessment on the makeup day.  Some school districts have permitted children to return to class on makeup days without being assessed. They have required that the child and parent come together to the office before school and write “refused” on the assessment (or sign some other indicator). This is a common sense approach to a refusal to test. It keeps the child in class, minimizes absences and meets their requirements. You can request Return to Class on Makeup Days using this letter.

(D) Advocate for the school to accept your refusal.  This option has become available to parents over the last few years since the TEA has made clear that schools may accept a parental refusal.  Before this, the position of the school was always that “if the student is on campus, we are required to put the assessment in front of them.”  This led to numerous situations where devious test administrators lied to students, cajoled them to disobey their parents or otherwise pressured students who had been told to refuse to participate instead.  The TEA has made clear that this is not required and that the school may accept the parental refusal and simply submit the assessment for scoring as if the student refused in person.  Review this article on the parental refusal.

 

STEP FOUR:

This step used to talk about how 5th and 8th grade parents had to fight threats of retention.  Great news!  Promotion is not dependent on STAAR results in ANY GRADE!  There is a recent change in the law which requires schools to provide 30  15 hours of tutoring (in a 4:1 3:1 ratio) for each reading or math STAAR not passed.  (HB 4545 HB 1416).  Parents can opt out of this (see letter) and schools are not permitted to remove a child from foundation or enrichment curriculum to tutor them (i.e. no loss of electives!).  Review school forms and enrollment documents carefully.  NEVER waive the 4:1 tutoring ratio unless it is part of an agreement that you are satisfied with to minimize or eliminate tutoring.  Never sign it as part of general enrollment documents.

STEP FIVE:

If your child either refuses to complete the assessment on an administration day or if they refuse on a makeup day, you may use the FERPA corrective letter to ask to have the scored assessment removed from your child’s educational records at both the state and local level. The TEA will still score the assessment, and your request will almost certainly be denied, but you can demand your letter be included in his academic file.  THIS SHOULD ONLY BE DONE AFTER YOU RECEIVE SCORE REPORTS.

STEP SIX:

Report back! We want to hear about any districts that act in a bad manner towards opt out parents. We also want to hear any stories of schools that are understanding and work with you! Use our contact form  to let us know how it goes!

A NOTE ON TRUANCY:

Some districts  threaten truancy charges or send notices about truancy to parents who keep their kids out for all or a large part of the assessment window. But we see this less and less since truancy laws have been modified (see 2017/2016 notes below), and because most parents use some type of agreed or in person refusal to get back to class.  However, if you are missing days to opt out and receive a threat, you should not ignore this.

Rather, inform the school that you have engaged in a home school program on the dates of absence. Let them know that your program included reading, writing, social studies, science and citizenship. Once you have done that, you will have laid the foundation for a defense of truancy charges. It is likely that the school district will not proceed further at that point.  For more information on Dual Enrollment Home Schooling, read this.

Update for 2017:   The following addition from 2016 holds true.  We have had no reports of any truancy related charges from opt out parents in 2016.  >>> Update for 2016: Truancy laws have changed.  The threat is no longer as great as it once was, although it has not entirely disappeared.  In particular, the three day in four week provision, which was used to intimidate parents who held their kids out for a full testing window, has been removed! This is great news.  An unvetted comparison of the old law and the new law is here.

Updated 1/22/24