Tag: retention

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.

The GPC Process – TEA Flowcharts

For parents of 5th and 8th graders who have opted out or failed STAAR, these flow charts show the process for determination of Accelerated Instruction and Promotion/Retention.

General Education Students (p. 8 of SSI Manual)

gpc process - gened

Special Education

For special education students, the ARD committee acts as the GPC. (p. 27 of SSI manual)

gpc for sped

Principal Issues Threats Contrary to Law

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?

I’d suggest it is not.


I’ve had it. I am tired of parents reporting threats and intimidation tactics by schools that are nothing but lies. At first I tried to give the teachers and administrators the benefit of the doubt and think they must just be misinformed. But the reports are coming so hot and so heavy that I am left with only one conclusion: schools, teachers and administrators will say and do anything to try to intimidate you into making sure your child takes the STAAR. They will lie; they will bully; they will threaten. It needs to stop. This is not an adversarial system. Education is supposed to be a partnership between parents and educators for the benefit of the children. In the business world, when partners lie to each other they get sued. Too bad the schools have no such deterrent.

Let’s count the lies:

1. Students have to pass Math STAAR for promotion this year. False, the TEA has removed it from SSI requirements. (Link)

Update for 2016: Math STAAR is part of SSI this school year.  Even so, the Education Code provides a path for promotion for 5th and 8th graders who do not pass STAAR in Math or Reading (or both).

2. If you child doesn’t take STAAR in 3rd/4th/6th/7th grade, they can’t go to the next grade. Almost always false. Check your school district’s policy online for Policy EIE (Local). Look for the section entitled Grade Advancement Testing. Most policies only say passage of the state assessment is required for Grades 5 and 8. Houston ISD is a notable exception. But I have not found any other districts that have enacted such a policy. No, they cannot retain your child for opting out of STAAR in 3rd, 4th, 6th or 7th Grade. To do this Google the name of your ISD and “board policy online”. From there, click on “Section E: Instruction” and locate policy EIE (Local). The typical section reads something like this: “Grade Advancement Testing: Except when a student will be assessed in reading or mathematics above his or her enrolled grade level, students in grades 5 and 8 must meet the passing standard on the applicable state-mandated assessments in reading and mathematics to be promoted to the next grade level, in addition to the District’s local standards for mastery and promotion.” By the way, the “in addition to” language at the end demonstrates that STAAR is not a part of the District’s local standards for mastery and promotion that apply to all other grades.

Update for 2016: Houston ISD has apparently suspended their promotion policy for non-SSI grades.  To my knowledge H-E-B ISD is continuing their policy on non-SSI year passage.  I have not found any other districts requiring STAAR passage in non-SSI years.

3. Your 5th/8th Grader Can’t Be Promoted Without Taking STAAR. False. The Education Code provides that students who have not met the standards for passage of STAAR in 5th or 8th grade are reviewed by a Grade Placement Committee for promotion. .Tex. Educ. Code sec. 28.0211 (e).

4. Our District WON’T Promote you if you don’t at least try STAAR. Either False or an overt statement of their intention to break the law. There is nothing in the Education Code, or any school policy we have seen, which permits a district to take into account the refusal to take STAAR as a factor in promotion or retention. The Education Code dictates the factors to be considered. Refusal to participate in STAAR is not one of them. When a district says this, they need a lawyer letter sent to them. Tex. Educ. Code 28.021(c).

5. If you don’t take STAAR, you have to go to Summer School. False. There is nothing in the Education Code that requires STAAR failures or refusers to go to summer school. The TEA’s SSI manual is very clear that there is no specific amount or type of Accelerated Instruction required for kids who have not passed STAAR. Specifically, the quote from p. 33 of the manual states, “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. ” It is also a decision for the GPC, which you are a member of!  For 5th and 8th grade students, summer school cannot be required by district “policy”, notes from the principal or any other method other than GPC.

6. If you don’t take STAAR, you have to lose an elective next year. False. For the same reason above.

7. – Updated: Your high school student cannot go to the next grade unless they pass STAAR. Completely false. Again check Board Policy EIE (Local). The standard language says “Grade-level advancement for students in grades 9–12 shall be earned by course credits.” Credit comes from grades. STAAR is a graduation requirement only, although alternate assessments are available. Please check your local board policy to confirm.

8 – Updated:  If you opt out in grades 3-8, your child can’t graduate high school.  Completely false and deliberate lie.  There is absolutely no connection between performance or participation in pre-secondary STAAR assessments and high school graduation.  The high school requirements (which do not even require passage of all STAAR EOC assessments) are independent of the requirements for Grades 3-8.  No part of high school graduation requirements look at participation in STAAR for grades 3-8.  This is so well known, that if a school tells you this, they can only be trying to scare and intimidate you.

9 –  Updated: If you opt out you cannot be promoted to 6th/9th grade.  You can only be placed in the grade. False.  The Grade Placement Committee, by law, can do only one of two things: promote or retain.  Placement is not a “thing” under the education code, except in one rare instance that has nothing to do with STAAR and does not involve a GPC.  This is just a lie designed to make the parent feel their child will be labeled as something inferior.  It is not true.

10 – If you are at school and refuse STAAR, you get a ZERO! False.  Nobody gets a zero.  Nobody in the history of all STAAR has ever gotten a zero.  Students who refuse assessment receive the minimum scaled score.  Now let’s ask two questions. First, what does that matter?  A refused assessment does not yield valid educational data whether they score is a 0 or a 1,000,000.  It is meaningless.  Second, if nobody gets a zero, why do schools say that?  Because getting a zero sounds scary to parents in a way that getting the minimum scaled score doesn’t  Schools will lie to you to scare you in order to get you to take the assessment.  That’s really pathetic.  Don’t fall victim to these scare tactics.

I am sure there are more and as I see them, I will add them in. Here is my advice for parents. When your district makes a threat like any of the above, tell them you want to see it in writing. You will be amazed how many of these “threats” will disappear when you ask them to sign their name to it. That is because they know they are lying.

And one other thing, if you give in to these lies, they will continue. If you allow yourself to be bullied, you are setting yourself and future parents up for more of the same treatment. You are an adult. They can’t take your lunch money from you unless you let them. Stand up to the lies.

Midland ISD Threatens to Retain Students for Opt Out

We have received two reports of parents in the Midland ISD being threatened with retention of their child if they follow through on their opt out plans.  These students are not in 5th or 8th grade.  As a result, state law does not require passage of the STAAR for promotion to the next grade level.  In fact, after receiving these reports TPERN investigated the local board policies for Midland ISD.  Midland ISD policy EIE (Local) is clear:

In grades 1–8, promotion to the next grade level shall be based on an overall average of 70 on a scale of 100 based on course-level, grade-level standards (essential knowledge and skills) for English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.

In other words, if you pass your core classes, you get promoted.  Period.  Other parts of the policy make it clear that Grade Level Advancement contingent on STAAR passage applies only to 5th and 8th grade students.  So why the threats?  First, some administrators believe parents are too stupid or too passive to push back against a threat to their child, even when that threat would require the school to ignore its own policies.  Second, the TEA and school district attorneys are warning districts that 2015 could see massive increases in Opt Out numbers.  Rather than address the underlying issue, or seek reconciliation with district parents and taxpayers, the path of confrontation, threats and intimidation is being recommended to school districts.  Clearly, school district lawyers will benefit from this by generating more work and legal fees.  The reason for their recommendation is bathed in self-interest.  It is less clear why a school district led by elected trustees would feel fighting and threatening your constituents — to the extent of stating that the district will ignore its own policies — is good stewardship.

Parents looking to opt out of STAAR assessment should be prepared to critically examine every reason, excuse or threat given by the school district.  In particular please report any threats to retain students using our Incident Report form.  In many cases, the schools simply parrot the self-interested advice given to them by the TEA or their attorneys.  As seen by the Midland ISD example, these threats are often false and hollow.  What a sad state of affairs that lying and threatening parents and kids for data collection is seen as acceptable behavior.  But what a powerful testimony to the real strength of the opt out movement.  Stand your ground.  Change is coming!