Tag: opt out

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.

Opt Out and Compulsory Attendance: A Red Herring

We’ve recently seen a number of communications from schools indicating that they cannot “permit” a parent to opt out of Accelerated Instruction under HB 4545 because it is subject to compulsory attendance.  In this brief video, we look at the actual words of the opt out and compulsory attendance statute and consider an uncontroversial example that demonstrate how this claim is legally untenable and, if true, would render the opt out statute a complete nullity.

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.

TEA Confirms: School Can Accept Parental Refusal of STAAR

From the earliest days of the Opt Out movement, the TEA has carved out a dichotomy between Opt Out and parental refusal that has confounded and frustrated parents and, indirectly, led to increased conflict between parents and schools.  However, as time has passed, the TEA’s outlook has become increasingly more realistic and focused on de-escalating conflict while still insisting upon participation.  For years, we have argued against the scoring of refused assessments.  One reason for this is that the practice of scoring refused assessments led to bizarre behavior by schools.  While some schools adopted parent friendly approaches like permitting the child to refuse assessment with the parent present, other schools insisted that a child refusing the assessment must be placed in a room, read all the instructions, instructed to begin work, and not released until the full time to complete the assessment passed.  Still other schools felt it was fair game to try to trick the students into taking the assessment, leading to predictable ploys like “Your mother just called” and requiring parents to implement password systems to thwart these childish games.

For several years, we have pushed back against those who lay all the blame for bad STAAR behavior on the TEA and pointed out that districts have broad authority to work with parents.  In fact, most of the “bad behaviors” we experience due to STAAR are the result of local decisions.  When the TEA has acted reasonably, we have applauded them and put the responsibility for bad conduct where it truly belongs.  Today is another one of those days.  Following several reports of students who stayed off campus for an entire assessment window being scored as having refused, we began to hear rumors that the TEA had told schools that if the parents indicated a refusal, the schools could submit the blank assessment for scoring, even if the student never set foot on campus.

This was a tidal shift, because for years the party line of the school has been “If the student is on campus, we must put the assessment in front of them and tell them to take it.”  No more.  In response to a recent Public Information Request, TPERN has received documents that confirm that “If the student/parent has refused to test during a particular testing window, the district . . . is not required to put the student in front of the test or a make-up test.”  The district need only maintain local documentation of the refusal.  This gives the Opt Out letter new importance.  Under the guidance of the TEA, the letter now constitutes sufficient evidence to permit the school to submit a blank assessment.  The student does not need to be absent for an entire administration window, or even for a single day.  And explicitly, the school is not required to put the assessment in front of the student for refusal.  As it should be, the word of the parent is sufficient.

Notably, this response was made directly to a district that was asking if it was permissible to not pull a student for makeup testing if they were absent on the assessment day and had a parent note of refusal.  Julie Cole made clear, that even if they are there on the assessment day, the school does not have to put the student in front of a test.  Similar guidance was given to ESC 14 when a school sought approval of instructions to parents that they must stay home the entire assessment window or take a makeup.

These communications should put to rest any school claims that they are “required” to present the assessment to the student.  They aren’t.  They never have been.  This common sense approach permits schools and parents to work together.  It de-escalates needless conflict and permits the viewpoints of both sides to be heard.  We applaud the TEA for clarifying this matter once and for all.

For our parents, we suggest:

(1) Use the new opt out letter which contains the refusal language;
(2) Verify with the school that your child will not be presented with the assessment.  Use these emails if needed.(Full Copy Lozano Email; Full Copy Wilson Email)
(3) We still suggest being willing to keep the student home for the main assessment days, as the schools are unlikely to be able to accommodate them with any normal learning activities.

Peaster ISD Superintendent Calls Out Governor on Parents’ Rights

In a YouTube video released today, Peaster ISD superintendent Lance Johnson called out the hypocrisy of Gov. Abbott’s political theatre ploy of announcing his fealty to the so called “parents’ rights” movement that is gaining political currency amongst the Republican electorate. After focusing on the school shutdown and mask mandates that came from the Abbott administration, Supt. Johnson then moves to the issue that motivates us at TPERN: the right of parents to refuse their child’s participation in the STATE STAAR accountability assessments. Johnson correctly notes that Abbott has never voiced support for parental rights in this area. And he points out that we haven’t heard STAAR opt out mentioned by Abbott in his latest “parents rights” speechmaking. Supt. Johnson labels it for what is is: political grandstanding that has no real basis in reality when you look at Abbott’s actual beliefs as evidence by his governance of the state, his appointees at the TEA, and his non-mentions of STAAR in any of these speeches. And he closes by arguing for the complete abolition of STAAR. Superintendent Johnson, whether our supporters agree about masks and school closures is unimportant. We thank you for standing up for parents rights and for the kids on the issue of STAAR and parental opt out.

Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius

This Latin phrase, used in the law, means “the expression of one thing is the exclusion of the other.” In other words, when certain things are specified in a law, an intention to exclude all others from its operation may be inferred.

Why do I tell you this? Because the brilliant lawyers that school districts hire with your tax dollars love to ignore that age old maxim when it comes to parental requests to opt out of full period AI. You see, the Opt Out law says: “(a) A parent is entitled to remove the parent’s child temporarily from a class or other school activity that conflicts with the parent’s religious or moral beliefs if the parent presents or delivers to the teacher of the parent’s child a written statement authorizing the removal of the child from the class or other school activity.  A parent is not entitled to remove the parent’s child from a class or other school activity to avoid a test or to prevent the child from taking a subject for an entire semester.

Now catch that last part. The law specifies two things that define when a parent is NOT ENTITLED to remove the child from an activity. The first is to avoid a test, which does not apply to full period AI classes. The second is to prevent a child from taking a subject for an entire semester. This also does not apply to removal from full period AI as (a) the student already has other math or language arts classes and (b) by offering to do AI outside of the full period setting, the parent defeats any argument that AI itself is a subject we are trying to avoid.

So when the school tells you that you are not entitled to remove your child from full period AI because another part of the Education Code says its required (it doesn’t really say that, but let’s pretend with them), just remind them that under the principle of Expressio Unius Est Exclusio Alterius, accelerated instruction can never be considered an exception to 26.010, because the law presumes that all exceptions have been incorporated in the statute and unexpressed ones cannot be implied.

NOTE: This theory applies equally if not moreso to AI that is not in place of electives.

What About High School? (updated 2019)

The Opt Out movement has grown steadily with parents in Grades 3 through 8 learning to navigate the intricacies of opting out, declining accelerated instruction and handling grade placement committee meetings for Grades 5 and 8.  However, the usual thought process has always been that when the kids hit high school, the stakes rise.  Now, the TEA wields its biggest hammer: the EOC graduation requirement.  A standard line amongst opt out activists is that you simply can’t do it in high school.  But more and more Texas parents are proving that the opposite is true.  More and more Texas kids are finishing their Texas high schools without having taken some or all of the EOCS.  I go a step further.  I hold that, for a committed opt out parent, if you can put aside sentimentality and about $2.50 a week, you, and not the school, hold all the power.

Let’s begin with the best news about high school opt out.  EOC passage plays no role in grade advancement.  Advancement by grade is wholly dependent on passing the classes — just the way it should be.  Since the repeal of the 15% law, EOC exams form no part of a student’s class grade.  Again, as it should be.  EOC results have no bearing on UIL eligibility.  That is strictly based on classroom grades, as it should be.  In other words, the threats that most often deter parents at the elementary and middle school level, that their child will be retained, do not exist in high school.  If your child passes the class and obtains the academic credit, they move on with their grade.

Instead the threat is overt and codified in statute.  Unless your child passes all five EOC examinations, they cannot receive a Texas public high school diploma.  Except they can graduate via the IGC (Individual Graduation Committee) process by passing just three out of five EOCs.  Still, you say, that’s three EOCs we have to take and we want to refuse them all.  But the schools say pass three STAARs or don’t graduate.  That’s not true.  In reality, there are approved substitute assessments that neither the TEA nor the school districts publicize.  And the schools have no choice here.  The Education Code permits the use of substitute assessments.  Other than using the TSI assessment as a substitute, there is ZERO requirement that you first attempt and fail the STAAR EOC.  These substitute assessments, which can be found on the TEA website usually take the form of college readiness assessments, such as AP, IB SAT and ACT assessments.  While they are still standardized testing, these assessments have a much longer history and are much better written than the STAAR examinations.  A student who is “close” on STAAR may find these assessment levels more readily attainable.  Parents are responsible for providing the school with adequate proof of the substitute assessment score. But once they do, that student has met the EOC graduation requirement and does not need that STAAR EOC to graduate.

But maybe you are a hard core resister.  Or maybe you want to be! (Don’t we all?)  Even taking the substitute assessments is too much compliance for you!  I’m right there with you.  I never took an “EOC” to graduate.  My grades and credits earned me my diploma, not some scaled four digit score that nobody can understand.  What can you do to fight STAAR and still have your kid be an accredited high school graduate?  Well here is where the $2.50 a week and lack of sentimentality comes in. Now why did I say put aside sentimentality?  Because in my experience, the biggest impediment to a parent proactively fighting STAAR at the high school level is the parental dream of seeing their child walk across the stage and receive their high school diploma.  It is a scene played out in the parent’s head that in most instances holds far more meaning for the parent than the student.  For students, events like prom, class trips and mementos such as class rings mean far more than sitting in the Texas sun to receive a piece of paper.  To live out this dream, parents readily subject their children, despite learning disabilities, test anxiety, English language acquisition or a myriad of other causes that render STAAR an unreliable assessment, to the annual dreaded cycle of testing, retesting and summer school.  A student challenged in language arts, may take 20 ELA assessments in their high school career in hopes of getting a passing grade.  A math challenged student may take 11 assessments hoping to get that passing mark.  Hours upon hours will be spent in STAAR tutorials and summer school.  Jobs, family vacations and curriculum enriching courses will go by the wayside all for the parent’s dream of seeing the child walk the stage.

In my mind, this is foolishness.  The psychic benefit of that “moment” is grossly outweighed by the psychological trauma to the child.  My son talks about his STAAR tutorial classes as the classes for the “stupid kids.”  That is how he sees himself.  That is how his peers categorize the students pulled out for STAAR remediation. Every ounce of educational privacy rights is obliterated by pull out instruction and remediation that is visible to the peers of these students.  If I had only known . . .

Remember the $2.50 a week I told you to put away?  For about $500, a parent can transfer all the class credits their child earns during their high school career to a private school, and after a short online “tutorial”, receive a fully accredited diploma.  Your child becomes a high school graduate.  There is no stage and no cap and gown, but that credential that opens the door to high school, military service our other pre-requisites is obtained without taking a single standardized test.  The parent wins.  The child wins.  You use your taxpayer provided public schools for every single classroom credit your child needs.  Then you say “thank you very much” send a check for $500 and get the accredited diploma from a private school.  One such program is the CVEP program through The Oaks Private School.   The school is fully accredited.   The diploma is accepted for post-secondary education.  You receive full transcripts.  You win.  (The Texas Success Academy is another option.  In full disclosure, I have spoken with the person who runs the program but do not know any parents who have used it.

Personally, I have spent well over $500 on tutoring, test prep materials, and other services designed to help my now senior level son pass STAAR. (Update: My son only passed three STAARs.  We refused to continue with them and he graduated via IGC in 2015.  He’s since earned vocational certificate at the local community college and decided he wants to give academic courses a try.)  We’ve studied, crammed, argued, fought and cried over this ridiculous STAAR assessment.  When I discovered CVEP, that all stopped.  We made a deal to focus on the areas we agree he needs to improve, continue his strong classroom achievement, and when the school year ends, we’ll do the CVEP program and receive his diploma.  It’s the credential, not the ceremony that matters.  The stress level has dropped dramatically.  Had I known of this program when my son entered 9th grade, he would never have taken a single EOC.

High school parents, with a little planning and an objective outlook, you really do hold all the power.  Take as many or as few EOCs as you wish.  Try the substitute assessments, or don’t. The only threat the school has is to withhold the diploma, but you can tell them “so what.”  You don’t have to homeschool.  You don’t have to pay four years or even one semester of private school tuition.  You can use and exploit the public education you pay for with your taxes.  Your child can play sports with their peers, join the band, compete in One Act Play, and every other activity available to their neighborhood friends.  And they can do it without taking a single EOC.  All you have to do is let go of sentimentality, make it about your child, and tell the school “No thanks, we don’t need your diploma.”  High school opt out, in many ways, is easier than younger levels because the kids are more likely to be able to assert themselves and it won’t affect their class standing.  Just be informed and have a plan, and you might be surprised how easy the rest of it is.

Updated 9/13/19

A special note for SpEd parents:  Once your child hits 9th grade, ask the ARD to write into his IEP that graduation will be based on credits and not on EOC results.  They will require him to attempt each one once. Make sure the IEP says only one attempt.  Because the TEA insists on grading refused assessments, your child can meet the “attempt” requirement simply by turning in his blank assessment.  He will be permitted to graduate with a foundation level diploma.

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