Tag: refusal

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.

Bubbling All “A” on STAAR is a BAD Idea

For reasons that are not clear to me, we’ve seen a sharp increase in “helpful” parents suggesting the answer to STAAR is to go along and bubble all “A” or all “C” or make some random design.  PLEASE DO NOT LISTEN TO THAT SUGGESTION!  Bubbling all the same answer will produce data.  That data will them be displayed across numerous axes and presented in a manner that demonstrates the deficiencies of your child academically.  The teachers and staff will then develop a plan to remediate your child based on this data you have so helpfully created.  Electives will be dropped and special state funded remediation classes will be added to your child’s schedule.  And when you go to complain, there will be data demonstrating exactly why they are doing what they are doing.

Now, maybe you will convince them to actually look at the answers and see that she chose the same answer. (P.S. If you actually tell your kid to bubble randomly you are stuck with the data – WORST ADVICE EVER).  Maybe that will convince them to drop the nonsense, but don’t count on it.  Because following the data is the safe play of the lazy and weak-minded.  They are safe professionally to just do what the data says than to think independently and say “this student was making a statement when they chose all the same answer.”  (Incidentally, you can’t choose all the same answer, because STAAR choices alternate between starting with A and F – now try explaining your strategy when you have to meet with the school!).

 

So what can you do to effectively refuse the assessment?

If taking a paper administration:

1) Bubble nothing

2) Bubble at least two choices for every question

Both of these options will produce no data other than the raw score.

If taking an online administration:

Page through to the end and submit the assessment.  Once the submission is confirmed, you are done.  The STAAR Test Administration manual indicates that there are three steps to successfully submitting the test:

We also recommend giving your child pre-written notes or cards indicating that they are refusing (by whichever method you wish) and asking the teacher to contact the parent if they have any questions but not to pressure the student to disobey the parent.

Comment on this article on the TxEdRights Forum!

Was Your Child Forcibly Tested?

We have received a disturbing number of reports of students being forced to complete the makeup STAAR via lies and coercion.  We know that schools are required to offer the assessment to the child, but several reports have come in that the child refused the assessment and was told “you can’t write refused on it.”  Others were told “you have to complete it, it’s the law.”  At least one child was denied the opportunity to ask their mother if it was OK to take it.  Yet another report (second hand) claims that the school told the mother that if she did not tell the child to take the assessment the TEA had instructed them to forcibly take the child to the testing room and make her to the assessment.  It is reported the mother asked the TEA about this and no such instruction was ever given.  Opt out parents who return their children on makeup days are assisting the school by letting them count the refusal as a participation.  It’s wrong of the TEA to do that, but there is absolutely no excuse for certified educators to lie to children and parents just to make a kid give them data.  In almost every one of these instance the school is forcing, tricking or convincing the child to disobey their parents.  Such actions destroy any bond of trust between the parent and the school.

If your child is forcibly tested on make up days against your instructions, and the child attempted to refuse but was not permitted, please do the following:

1. Take a deep breath and relax, we need to focus.

2. Assemble all your e-mails and other communications with the school that preceded the STAAR.

3. Write down your recollection of what you were told verbally, including names, dates, and the precise words as best you recall them before the incident occurred. Then write down everything you remember about what happened and how you learned of this. Note who said what and their emotional state.

4. If your child is OK, have them write down what happened in their own handwriting, or audio or video record them giving their account. Do this as soon as the child is able. Please do not prompt or guide them. Before you start remind them to use names and the exact words people said, including the child. After you have done this, go over it with the child and make notes f any names the child left out or statements they were not clear about. Do not re-video the child and do not have them re-write their account.

5. File an Incident Report form with www.txedrights.net (it is on the website). Please provide all information requested. We will follow up with you after the report is reviewed. Please do not e-mail us video or documents until we request them.

A Great Refusal Letter

Here is refusal letter a mom from GPISD shared with us! I’d love to see how the school responds to this!

Dear (school name protected) Administrators and Teachers:
My name is [parent name]. I’m a mother of a 5th grader in GPISD. It was suggested to me that I contact you to discuss my concerns about STAAR testing. I will be honest about how I feel about STAAR, but I seek guidance about how to approach the issues at hand. I don’t like the STAAR test, I don’t agree with and I certainly don’t approve of the curriculum that comes with it. As I mentioned, my daughter is in 5th grade and was diagnosed with double-deficit Dyslexia late last year. Since that time, she has failed all of her STAAR tests. The stress she’s already feeling about testing causes her to lose sleep, get headaches and stomach aches. She spends more time than her peers just trying to keep up, but still is falling behind. I have pushed to have her tested for other learning disabilities and that is in the works, but hasn’t happened yet. She has two first year teachers this year, one for reading, one for math and her science teacher has been out on maternity leave, so she has had a sub the last few weeks. She went several weeks without any math instruction at all because her Dyslexia class interfered with instructional time for math.
As a parent, I feel that it is my responsibility to protect my children from anything I deem as harmful and I strongly feel that the STAAR test is harmful, not only for my child, but for EVERY child, however, I only have the ability to protect my own. I don’t want my daughter to take the test, but I also understand that she’s in a “critical” year for testing, which puts me in a quandry. It is my understanding that the 5th grade kids must pass reading this year to be promoted to 6th grade. Based on what I’ve seen with the homework she brings home and the struggles she has with it, I feel pretty certain that she won’t pass it. Nor do I feel she will pass the math or science! The structure of this test is developmentally inappropriate for their ages! I have two older children and neither of them, nor myself, are capable of understanding some of the assignments nor the method of teaching that is being conveyed to my 5th grader, and I assure you that it’s not due to lack of intelligence!
This assessment means absolutely nothing to me. It doesn’t measure intelligence, nor does it measure teaching or learning ability, so why is it so critical? Because the State says it is!
Here’s my quandry…I know what my rights are, but I want to know what stance GPISD takes and if her school and district administrators will support my daughter and I or are they going to fight us.
Do I allow my child to take the test, knowing the physical, emotional and psychological damage it causes her along with the physical illness it creates, knowing the likelihood of her passing is slim, or do I do what my maternal instinct is telling me and refuse for her to take it? Will I have support from GPISD or will GPISD challenge me, making things even more difficult for my daughter and myself? Do I continue to allow my daughter to be made to feel like she doesn’t matter, that she has no value because she can’t pass an insignificant test? I have always taught my children to stand up for what they believe in and what is right, even if that means they stand alone, so doesn’t that mean I should lead by example? I have always taught my children to always do their best in everything they do. Do I allow my daughter to continue to feel like a failure, even though she is doing her best? Is GPISD going to tell my daughter that her best isn’t good enough?
I feel that whatever direction I choose to go, it could potentially negatively impact my daughter and I don’t want that. She faces more than enough challenges at this age and certainly doesn’t need anymore.
The more I write, the more concrete I feel in making my decision. I must use my voice to protect my child until she is capable of using her own. With all due respect (and I DO highly respect each of you and your positions), please let this serve as formal notice that my daughter, (name protected) will abstain from taking any and all STAAR tests this year.
Please know that I have not made my decision lightly. In fact, it has caused me a great deal of turmoil. However, I must do what I feel is best for my daughter and since GPISD is funded by the State of Texas and must follow their rules, I’m taking that power away and making the decision myself. My daughter’s self-worth cannot be measured by a test score or monetary value. I only hope that one day, the State of Texas and GPISD will feel the same way and allow the school administrators and educators to do their jobs and provide our children the true education that they so richly deserve.
Please advise me in advance of what instruction will be provided for her on testing days and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.
Respectfully,
[Mom]

OPTING OUT – Step by Step

How to Opt Out/Decline/Refuse STAAR

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, it is the rare school district that will work with you. 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:

You will 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).

STEP THREE:

At this point, unless the school relents, you will need to make a decision. Either (A) Keep your child home on STAAR days or (B) instruct them to write refused on the test booklet and answer sheet, and to make no other marks. (Kids taking the computer administration should be instructed to page to the end, submit it and confirm their submission). 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. If 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.

If you choose (A), you must be aware of not only the 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.

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. 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.

Note for 2020-2021
: The TEA has expanded online testing windows to five weeks, which makes staying home almost impossible unless you choose to withdraw your student. On the positive side, for virtual learners, the TEA has decreed that the student must come to campus to be assessed, so as a parent, you can simply keep them home. They will also be score O for other instead of A for absent if this happens. Not a big deal practically, but it does give us a tool to measure opt outs this spring!

STEP FOUR:

If your child either refuses to complete the assessment on an administration day or if they refuse on a makeup day, you need to send a Do Not Score letter (click Here). The TEA will still score the assessment, but you can demand your letter be included in his academic file. For the more confrontational of you, you can also ask the district attorney to investigate the falsification of data that accompanies the scoring of refused assessments. (See this article).

STEP FIVE:

Some districts want to be punitive. They will threaten truancy charges or send notices about truancy. 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.

STEP SIX:

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 hours of tutoring (in a 3:1 ratio) for each STAAR assessment not passed.  (HB 4545).  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 schools forms and enrollment documents carefully.  NEVER waive the 3:1 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 SEVEN:

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!

Updated 1/12/22

Ten Texas Opt Out Myths, and the Real Story Behind Them

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.