No, You Don’t Have to Pass STAAR in 5th or 8th Grade

OK, so a mom from Kissam Elementary is being told that passing STAAR is required to go to 6th grade.  Let’s examine how we know this is not true.

First, search for the Academic Performance Report for your school from 2014-2015.  It is located here:

Academic Performance Report

The cover looks like this:


Now let’s look at the STAAR passage rate for 5th grade Reading, the only one that counted for SSI last year:


We can see that the failure rate for 5th grade reading last year was 23%.  Now if STAAR passage is required for promotion, then the retention rate in 5th grade would be 23%.  Basically 1 out of ever 4 kids would have to repeat 5th grade.  So let’s see what the Academic Performance report says about retention in the 5th grade:


We see that rather than a 23% retention rate, the actual rate was 0%.  (For full disclosure, 15% of special ed kids were retained, but that number gives total retention of about 1.3%, nowhere near the 23% that would be required is STAAR passage was necessary for promotion.

As you can see, every kid who appealed their retention to the GPC was promoted.


This is one example of many.  The idea that passing STAAR is required for promotion is utter nonsense.  Know the facts and arm yourself!

Texas Children Deserve Better

by Jennifer Rumsey
March 24, 2016

special to txedrights.net

It’s that time again. Time for STAAR testing in Texas. STAAR is the legislatively mandated series of high-stakes tests for public school children in Texas, and it is the most recent and most difficult of several testing program iterations that began in the 1980’s. I have been a Texas public school teacher since 1999. I have experienced TAAS, TAAS prep, TAAS workbooks, TAAS-aligned textbooks, TAAS packets, and even a TAAS pep rally.

Once students’ statewide overall scores became pretty high, the legislature made the costly move (paid to Pearson) to TAKS. The public schools adjusted: we adopted TAKS-aligned textbooks (published by Pearson), bought TAKS workbooks, held TAKS bootcamps and tutorials. During this time, the lawmakers instilled the Student Success Initiative (SSI), claiming that 5th and 8th grade students would “benefit” by being required to pass the TAKS reading and math tests. If students don’t pass, don’t worry…they “get” two more tries to pass the tests. But if they fail it repeatedly, these children can be retained in grade. Nevermind that research shows that students who are retained are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and to dropout of high school.

And then there was STAAR, the most ambitious testing program yet. The Texas legislature decided to gut public education funding that year, 2011. The cuts amounted to a loss of$5.4 billion, while they voted to create STAAR and pay Pearson $500,000,000.00. At first adoption, high school students were required to pass 15 End of Course exams to graduate. Now, thanks to grassroots efforts to change excessive testing requirements, high school students only take 5 graduation exams. However, their future life success remains impacted by rules that they must pass these exams to graduate, even with their Carnegie credits earned.

Tuesday my freshmen students must take the 5 hour English I End of Course Exam. I will be one of the lucky test administrators. During one of my test administration trainings, I found out that I am now required to write down the name of each student who leaves the testing room to use the bathroom, the time the student leaves, and the time that they return. This information, along with a seating chart, will be turned in to the Texas Education Agency. I am not sure why. Is it an additional measure of control over the students? Is it an additional measure of control over myself and other education professionals? Is it a deliberate attempt at de-professionalization of educators? When I mentioned to my students that I had to keep track of their times in and out from the restroom, they were puzzled and irritated. One savvy freshman girl asked, “Do they want to know the stall I used also?”

What I do know for sure is that these tests have become far too important. They are treated as top secret, national security-level documents. Why is the material in a standardized test treated as more confidential than the information in the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails? I have already signed my oath, and in my test administrator’s manual I am threatened with the loss of my hard-earned professional certification if I share information relating to what is on the test. I am cautioned to in no way purposely view the tests. Ironically, I am allowed to read the writing prompt to a student who requests it… My students are asked to sign an honor statement as well about not sharing the test material. During the five-hour testing block, I must “actively monitor” the students in my room, making sure they don’t cheat, don’t forget to bubble their answer document, don’t sleep. In the past, I have been warned that I am in not allowed to sit down during this all-important monitoring session. I may not read or write anything. I may only monitor, monitor, monitor, resting only on a “perch” of a stool for a short while before getting back up and walking the silent room filled with stressed students whose self-worth depends on their bubbled answers.

Tuesday is a big day for my little family. If my daughter doesn’t pass the math STAAR test, she will face the possible future of retention in fifth grade. My 10-year-old daughter is one of the unlucky guinea pig fifth graders in the state of Texas. My sweetie is a captive of the Student Success Initiative and one of the unlucky children impacted by a State Board of Education decision from 2015 that “pushed down” developmentally inappropriate math TEKS objectives. Some of the newly required 5th grade material was, until 2015, not taught until the children were in the 7th grade. What does this “pushing down” of objectives do? It requires more material to be taught during the school year, stealing valuable time that math teachers need to teach the foundational material for that year. It makes math harder and more rushed for the children. It is wrong. The TEA suspended the math passing requirements for 5th graders last year. But not so this year. Nope. My child and her peers must pass this test or face retention in grade. And wait, the news just gets better. The outgoing Commissioner of Education announced near his departure that, “STAAR performance standards have been scheduled to move to the more rigorous phase-in 2 passing standard this school year. Each time the performance standard is increased, a student must achieve a higher score in order to pass a STAAR exam” (http://tea.texas.gov/About_TEA/News_and_Multimedia/Press_Releases/2015/Commissioner_Williams_announces_STAAR_performance_standards_for_2015-2016_and_beyond/).
Thus, my daughter and all her little 10 and 11 year old friends are being held accountable for inappropriate math standards and will be judged at a higher performance standard at the same time. Something is not right here. Something is very, very wrong. My child is not a subject to be experimented on.

While my child is held to harder performance standards, the TEA has failed to comply with laws passed this legislative session. The 2015 legislature passed HB 743, and Governor Abbott signed it into law. This law requires that the TEA redesign STAAR assessments in grades 3-5 so that 85% of children testing can complete them in two hours. Currently, the assessments are four hours in length, far too long. The TEA has not shortened the tests for this year, ignoring the law. Why is my 10 year old held to higher performance standards on developmentally inappropriate math objectives, threatened with grade retention if she fails, but the TEA is getting away with ignoring the law? In my view, this refusal to follow the law invalidates all test scores for all children in grades 3-5 this year.

Research shows that standardized tests are not a true measure of what a child knows. I can tell you that they are not any kind of measure of a child’s worth. The children in the state of Texas deserve better than to be over-tested and experimented on. I am an expert in the field of education. I am a professional. I am a teacher. I know when my students are learning. I love seeing the light in their eyes when they have mastered a difficult concept, the excitement on their faces when they ask if they can continue reading a novel that they truly enjoy, the beauty in their smiles when I praise their successes. As far as being accountable, all teachers are accountable. We always have been. We are accountable to the children in our care, the children who become ours for a year, the ones we listen to when they are sad, the ones we feed when they are hungry, the ones we teach. It is time for the lawmakers and the TEA to be held accountable. Texas children are not subjects for your high-stakes experiments. They deserve better.

Premier TX School Law Firm: Parents Can Opt Out (and Schools Can Excuse the Absence)

For readers of TPERN articles, you will recognize the name Walsh, Anderson.  Walsh, Anderson (now known as Walsh Gallego) is one of the largest (and arguably the most prestigious) education law firms in Texas.  They represent school districts across the state through multiple offices, speak at almost every school conference, and regularly provide guidance to school districts on difficult legal issues.  During the summer of 2014, after schools dealt with the first big wave of opt outs, Walsh, Anderson put together an “Opt Out Course for Schools.” which included a legal paper that contained various legal arguments against opting out.  Those same arguments now appear almost word for word in many letters districts send to intimidate parents.  They include the thoroughly discredited claim that the Attorney General has ruled that an assessment and a test are the same thing (it hasn’t).  When we posted the Walsh, Anderson handout that a school sent us, Walsh, Anderson made a copyright claim and demanded we take it down, even though schools post it all over the internet.  Notwithstanding the work Walsh, Anderson has done to arm schools with legal arguments to intimidate parents, we have always found them to be reasonable in working with parents to craft solutions that enable parents to make good educational decisions for their kids and allow the schools to meet their requirements under the state law.  And this is what good lawyers do: they help their clients find a way to do what they want to do.

Which raises the question: when a school decides to actively oppose Opt Out parents, is this something they do because the law requires them to, or is it a policy choice the school is making?  Because, quite often, schools will say the law requires them to take these stances.  That, of course, is nonsense.  We’ve always asserted that if a school district wishes to respect parental rights in the Opt Out process, a good lawyer can arm them with many tools to do exactly that while also protecting the school against allegations that it has not followed the TEA rules.  And knowing that the people at Walsh, Anderson are good and creative lawyers, our logical conclusion is that opposing parents is a local policy decision — not a result of the legal obligations of schools.

This conclusion was confirmed when we discovered an October 2014 “advice column” written by two Walsh, Anderson lawyers for the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals.  So that you understand this is coming from school lawyers and not TPERN, here is the intro biography to the column:

bios walsh

A principal wrote to the lawyers asking whether the school was required to report Opt Out absences as unexcused absences.  The Walsh, Anderson shareholder who responded not only gave the principal a route to excuse the absences, she also decided to explain opting out to other readers who may not have experienced it yet:

walsh excerpt

There you have it, in one simple sentence.  Putting everything else aside, the school lawyers know what TPERN and Opt Out parents state-wide have been saying for years: parents “technically” can opt out of STAAR.  But to take it a step further, schools can choose to excuse those absences!  Principals have wide discretion to decide what is an excused absence and what is not.  If a principal chooses to respect the rights of parents, he may mark STAAR opt out days as excused absences.

This column puts a school’s decision to fight opt out parents in a stark light.  Parents can opt out.  Schools can excuse the absences.  The decision to fight, intimidate and threaten does not come from the TEA.  It does not come from the school’s lawyers.  It is a local, policy decision.  A school’s hands are not tied.  They have a lot of discretion on how they treat parents.  It’s time to demand from your local school administration and trustees that schools respect parental decision-making.  In the meantime, if you get any blow-back from schools telling you that parents can’t opt out, just print out the column and give it to them with the note that according to Texas’s top school lawyers, you can.



Schools To Lege: We Will Do What We Want

In 2013, as parents began to become more vocal about the outrageous emphasis on standardized assessment, and the time it was taking away from real learning, the Texas Legislature took notice and took the first baby steps toward rolling back the punitive STAAR assessment system that lobbyists with no education experience had ramrodded through in the previous session.  The number of EOC assessments was lowered.  Third grade promotion exam requirements were removed.  And the legislature, for the first time, put limits on the schools continual use of practice assessments to prep students for the STAAR.  Districts were strictly limited to two benchmark (practice) assessments per subject during the school year.  While arguably this is too much, since, if the assessment truly measures content mastery and not test taking ability, test taking practice should not be needed, it was a start.  Parents could relax knowing that students wouldn’t face benchmarks every 3 or 6 weeks as had become common.

But, alas, legislators apparently put too much faith in the ability of school administrators to follow the law.  Worried over punitive performance reports based on STAAR results, schools decided that they would comply with the limitation on benchmarks, not by cutting back on benchmarks, but by renaming all of them that exceeded the two permitted by law.  Now, a basic premise of law is that we look to substance not form.

The Texas Classroom Teachers Association immediately noted that “Some districts have simply renamed the benchmark tests (e.g., “cumulative formative assessments”) and continued to schedule more than two during the school year. Some districts are adding additional benchmark questions to other tests. At least one district tests students with a “Curriculum Based Assessment” (CBA) up to three times before giving a benchmark assessment.”  The American Federation of Teachers put its members on alert to report  “whether school districts will comply with the letter and spirit of this new law or will try to play games to evade it—for instance, by relabeling their test-prep tests as something other than “benchmark” tests.”

In Houston, former teacher Shadah Srrivers noted that students will take as many as 30 district mandated practice assessments, now relabeled as “snapshots.”  And meanwhile in Denton, the practice of renaming benchmarks has been documented by a parent boasting of their child’s success.


If you enlarge the photo, you can see that the student has been given a form labeled “My Benchmark Scores”  The form shows that Benchmark 2 (the maximum allowed) occurred in December.  But in February, the student was administered a “STAAR Simulation.”  This is an overt, unabashed violation of state law, and nobody cares.  Parents, please contact your senators and state reps and let them know that school districts should follow the law as well.  File grievances with your local school board the minute your child takes a third benchmark.  Substance matters.  Cute tricks like renaming your benchmarks are of no effect whatsoever.  Don’t let the schools tell you otherwise.

Why I’m Not Going To Hold Your Hand This Year

With the recent TEA announcement that the passing standard for STAAR will rise this year, interest in the Opt Out movement has started even earlier than usual.  Parents around the state have found their kids have been pulled from electives and forcibly enrolled in test prep class periods.  School board meetings have been called to address over-preparation concerns in the first six weeks of school!  Students have started their own opt out page and the press has been talking about it.  As news of the increased passing standards hit, the Facebook Texas Opt Out page had nearly 1000 new likes in a week — numbers we don’t usually see until the first assessment window approaches.

On the Opt Out Facebook page, we see three types of posts from parents.  The first is the “how do I do it” post.  And we happily direct you to many resources, including txedrights.net, with guides and forms for your use.  The second type is what I call the “you can do it” post, from parents who have successfully opted out.  These posts usually relate their personal struggles with the school and how and why they overcame them.  But the third kind is the one I want to talk about.  That is the post that seeks reassurance that nothing bad will happen to you or your child if you opt out.  The last two years, I as a lawyer, and other moderators as opt out parents, have patiently and carefully explained to you the possibilities, the realities and the experiences that exist.  We have tried to separate the fiction that the schools spread and the myths that many parents believe, from the actual law and the processes as they actually exist.  We have been your cheerleaders, your counselors and your advocates.

For me, I’m not going to play that role anymore.  And I am not going to play it for one simple reason.  Careful, cautious engagement will not bring the kind of change we need.  We need radical, committed parents who are willing to stand up to the schools and say “I dare you.”  We need the kind of groundswell activism that led to tens of thousands of New York parents opting out even when the schools told them they can’t. We need the kind of fierce opposition that led to zero students in a Seattle high school showing up for their state assessment.  We need the kind of brave line-in-the-sand protests that saw Colorado students walk out of class in protest of a misguided assessment process.  In Texas, we like to talk tough.  We like to claim to be rugged individualists.  But when it comes to standing up for our kids, by and large we are sheep and cowards.

What we have been doing in Texas has brought the most incremental of changes.  And while the increments have been good increments, we are nowhere near undoing the STAAR assessment system.  We are not in a place where the next legislature will be pressured to reduce assessments to the minimum required by the federal government.  We are not in a place where our elected representatives will decide that the high stakes must be detached from assessment.  We are not in a place where school boards, teachers and even our own TEA will stand up and say “this is wrong” without fear that they will end up on the losing side of the outcome.

So while all cautious and scared parents will hopefully come along and join the Opt Out movement this year, you will have to do it without my help.  I’m not speaking for any other moderator in the group. They may feel differently.  But for me, I’ve had it.  I’ve had it with a system that exploits the fear of parents, and of parents that let themselves be exploited.  I’ve had it with people who mouth how bad they think the system is, but because their kid isn’t at risk of retention, go ahead and participate anyway, just to be sure their kid is taken care of.  (That’s called enabling, by the way.)

Everybody’s kid is being negatively impacted.  In the narrowing of curriculum, in the loss of recess time, in the removal of peers from electives (which narrows the depth of experience in any class) . . . this list goes on and on.  Your kid may pass STAAR, but he still suffers.  She may not stress over high stakes, but she goes to school with a bunch of overstressed kids.  Don’t you think that impacts her experience?  So, this year, I am not holding your hand anymore.

Cautious, fearful parent, I understand.  I get it.  Do what you think is right.  I’ve spent hundreds of hours the past two years explaining legal arguments, the real facts about retention and potential and actual outcomes just to see parents fold up and submit their kids to assessment. I am not going to invest my limited time in doing that anymore.

Here is the bottom line, and you can do with it what you will.  Yes, there is a CHANCE, that in SSI grades a school could retain your child if you opt out.  (Of course the same chance exists if they participate and fail the STAAR).  The reality is very different. 90%+ of STAAR failures are promoted.  Yes, there is a chance a school could pull your kid from an elective.  There is also a chance you can fight that and win.  Or not.  Deal with it.  You are either trying to take the system down or you are joining in its purposes and objectives.  Decide what is more important and do it.  I am not going to counsel you through your decision anxiety, because in the end you will either have the courage to stand up or decide that a 1% risk is unacceptable to you.  You don’t need me to explain the risks and realities for you to do that.  You just need to decide if you are on board or not.

This year is vital to reforming assessment in Texas.  The actions of parents this assessment season will inform the work of our legislators in 2017.  The more we resist, the more we demand of candidates a response to their position on assessment, the more we confront the system in a way that raises our public profile, the greater the opportunity for real change.  So my time will be spent supporting those who will confront the system, not those who want to make sure they will be safe.

If you are ready, we are here to help.  I hope I am way too busy come spring because of people making the right decision.

TEA Violates Law; Refuses to Validate Assessments

In a decision that surprises absolutely nobody, the Texas Education Agency has announced that it will ignore the recent changes to STAAR assessment imposed by the 84th Legislature.  In HB 743, the legislature required that assessments be shortened, that they occur only over the course of one day, and that they be independently validated.  This bill passed overwhelmingly and is in effect.  For this school year, all assessments must comply with the law.

However, the TEA has announced that it will not follow the law this year.  It has stated it will not administer shortened assessments until 2017 and that it will “decide” whether its current process of internal assessment review is an “independent” validation.  Clearly, if the legislature felt the assessment instruments were currently being validated, there would be no need for the law.  This is just wishful, if not willful, misconduct by the TEA.

For parents, however, there are significant ramifications. The TEA intends to subject your children to assessments that do not comply with the law and to permit schools to use these illegal assessments to promote or retain your children.  The clearest impact is in grades 3-5.  In our Forms and Documents section you will find a link to a new refusal letter based on the illegality of the assessments.  Please also consider signing the petition below!

Petition to Require TEA to Follow the Law

TPERN also urges all parents to contact their local state representative and senator and demand hearings regarding the TEA’s belief that it is above the law.  The irony of an agency that tells parents that the law requires them to take the STAAR (when it doesn’t) deciding it can ignore the law whenever it likes, is too outrageous for words.  The leadership of this rogue agency must be called to account.

Update: We have been asked about documentation of the TEA’s position.  This is derived from the TEA’s Legislative Briefing Book, contained on their website, and linked herein.  The discussion of HB 743 begins on numbered page 80.  Discussing the STAAR assessments for Grades 3-5 the TEA states “The grades 3-5 assessments in reading and mathematics cannot be revised in time for the spring 2016 administration. The first administration of the shortened assessments would occur in spring 2017.”  A similar statement exists for the writing assessments.  Discussing the possibility that they do not need to independently validate the assessment, the TEA states “Prior to the spring 2016 administration, the agency must determine whether the TTAC, or USDE peer review process to approve state achievement standards and assessment systems required under Title I, meets the requirements of (a-11). If not, an independent entity will need to be contracted with to perform the evaluation pending available funding.”  They also complain there is no appropriation for this, indicating that they may choose to ignore the requirement because funds were not EXPRESSLY appropriated for the purpose.

Update 2: It has been pointed out that the TEA apparently back-tracked on writing assessments and will limit them to one day.  However, the will not fit within the time parameters set by the  legislature, so they are still not in compliance. This information is found here.

Update 3:  TEA lies and refusal continue.  Under pressure from the legislature and parent groups, they have now announced they will remove the field test questions from the assessments this spring.  While that will shorten the assessments by five to eight questions, it will not get them under two hours for grades 3-5 as required by law.  This is not a “victory” as some parents are claiming and as the press is reporting.  It is continued violation of the law by the TEA.

TEA Announces Higher Passing Standards; TPERN Smells a Rat

TEA Commissioner Michael Williams announced that this year the STAAR “cut scores” will increase as a way of showing enhanced “rigor” in the demands placed on Texas students. Planned phased in increases in STAAR scoring had been delayed since the implementation of the system due to flat results in scores. This last spring we got more of the same: flat scores. In other words, now five years into STAAR, students do no better than they did when the assessment was rolled out as a new and unknown entity. In five years, we have become no better at preparing students for this assessment. So the answer is obvious: raise the passing standards. (/end sarcasm).

Raising standards against a backdrop of flat results leads to an inevitable conclusion: passing rates will be the worst ever this year. We should see every single grade level and subject drop significantly in its passing rate, right? Well here is my prediction: passing results will remain flat. Here is my second prediction: flat results against raised standards will be hailed as a success and as evidence that the assessment system is working.

Why do I see this happening? Simple. Because the TEA will manipulate data to achieve the outcome it seeks. I want to cite two specific examples.

December 2014 EOC retests and Spring 2015 Math STAAR.

In December 2014, students who had failed STAAR EOCs in high school retested in the final administration before the legislature met. Over 75,000 seniors were threatened with non-graduation at that time. In response, bills had already been filed at the legislature to permit those seniors to meet alternative graduation standards. STAAR supporters were irate that the Texas pass or go home standard was up for re-evaluation. Suddenly, with no explanation, almost half of those seniors passed. Pass rates for re-testers on the EOCs reached all time highs. The number of kids affected went way down. However, by the time spring EOCs rolled around, we returned right back to the traditional passage rates we had always seen.  But during the legislative session, the TEA got to beat its chest about these great results the students had achieved.

In the 2014-2015 school year, Texas introduced new math TEKS. Students struggled, parents screamed, teachers sweated. Students were asked to do work that previously had been taught a year or two later in their academic careers. Fourth graders predictably struggled with sixth grade math. The TEA took two steps. First, it pushed assessment later into the spring to give students more time to learn. Second, it decided not to use the STAAR Math for retention purposes in 5th or 8th grade. When the assessment came around, many parents reported that their students said it was easy, even though they had struggled in their math class all year. When the results came out, amazingly they mirrored the passage rates from previous years.

How can this be? In both instances where STAAR was under a huge spotlight, the results turned out way better than anyone predicted. Well, it isn’t rocket science. If you select easier questions for the assessment, then you can control the results. Having looked at EOC assessments from different years, I truly believe that is exactly what happened with the December 2014 English 2 EOC. Reports from parents would indicate a similar outcome with math. Based on past history, I have no doubt that the TEA will make sure that its contractors craft an assessment that will meet previous passing rates, even with higher cut scores. This will then be used to show that STAAR is working and the system is valid.

Let’s see what happens, but remember this prediction.

Denton ISD Issues Void Summer School Order; TPERN Responds

Following in the footsteps of Houston ISD, which hastily admitted its error, the Denton Independent School District has started sending notices to parents of

Denton ISD Illegally Orders 5th Graders to Summer School
Denton ISD Illegally Orders 5th Graders to Summer School

children who did not pass the 5th grade STAAR reading informing those parents that their children will be required to attend summer school if they do not pass the second administration of STAAR.  This “determination” is illegal and void.  This notification is of no legal effect.  Simply put, under the Education Code,  the District lacks the authority to mandate summer school for any student based on STAAR results.

The Education Code is clear.  Accelerated instruction, which may be, but does not have to be in the form of summer school, is determined by a Grade Placement Committee composed of the school principal (or his/her designee), the subject area teacher, and the parent.  The school district has no power under the Education Code to determine anything.

Section 28.0211(c) of the Texas Education Code provides:

After a student fails to perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument a second timea grade placement committee shall be established to prescribe the accelerated instructionthe district shall provide to the student before the student is administered the assessment instrument the third time.  The grade placement committee shall be composed of the principal or the principal’s designee, the student’s parent or guardian, and the teacher of the subject of an assessment instrument on which the student failed to perform satisfactorily.” (emphasis added).

In this case, the second administration has not occurred.  The GPC has not even been formed.  Yet, Mary Helen Martin, Denton ISD’s Director of Elementary Curriculum, has taken it upon herself to refuse to follow the law.  This decision lies in the hands of the local school employees together with the parents.  Ms. Martin doesn’t get a vote.  Moreover, the Texas Education Agency clearly dictates that Accelerated Instruction should not be a one size fits all “everyone goes to summer school” approach.  In the Student Success Initiative Manual, the TEA indicates that accelerated instruction should be individualized to the needs of the individual student.

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. The policy governing accelerated instruction is intended to allow districts flexibility to meet individual student needs.” (p. 33).

These types of blanker summer school orders go against everything accelerated instruction is intended to accomplish.  Texas Parents’ Education Rights Network calls on Ms. Martin and Denton ISD to issue a corrective letter to parents immediately.  These types of legally erroneous letters destroy trust between parents and schools.  They are intended to mislead parents into consenting to remediation plans that are not legally required.  They are designed to replace the cooperative relationship between parents and local school employees that the legislature envisioned with top down standardized decision making imposed by the district administration on its students.

TPERN attorneys believe that the summer school determination contained within Ms. Martin’s letter to Denton ISD is legally void as it was not prescribe in compliance with the Education Code.   Denton ISD must follow the legal process for determining accelerated instruction, which means each child’s parent must be an active partner and participant in the decision making process.

TPERN Responds to Houston ISD Warning Letter

The Houston Chronicle recently published an article noting that Houston ISD had sent a warning letter to parents who opted out of STAAR assessment.  The letter was full of legal and factual errors, but was also notable for its blatant declaration that mandatory summer school awaits all kids who have opted out of STAAR.  This is contrary to law.  TPERN’s response is found below.  This response will be sent to Houston ISD, the Chronicle and Houston CVPE.

Regarding the recent article:  HISD letter warns parents against opting out of tests (4/24/15)

In the Chronicle’s coverage of the CVPE alternative learning event, the following quote correctly summarized the ability of parents to refuse standardized assessment for their children.

“”The fact is parents can request their child be removed from standardized testing,” said Elaina Polsen, executive director of communications with Clear Creek ISD”.

Unfortunately, Houston ISD apparently cannot comprehend that there is no method in statute to force assessment.  Parents cannot and will not be compelled to submit to standardized assessment of their children.  Instead, Houston ISD and Mr. Gohl have chosen the route of fear-mongering and intimidation to try to persuade parents to provide data on an assessment that has serious validity issues.  In so doing, however, Mr. Gohl has apparently announced that it is Houston ISD, and not the parents, that will refuse to follow the Education Code.  Such a posture is intolerable, and Mr. Gohl or those who formulated this illegal policy should be immediately terminated.  Lawless behavior should not be rewarded with a paycheck from the taxpayers.

I refer to the following line from Mr. Gohl’s letter to the parents of opt-out kids.  “[S]tudents will be required to attend summer school and will be reevaluated by the Grade Placement Committee prior to the end of summer school for a determination of promotion or retention.”  Mr. Gohl even bolded and underlined “attend summer school” so parents would know he is serious.  Mr. Gohl is not following the law.

Section 28.0211(c) of the Texas Education Code provides:

After a student fails to perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument a second time, a grade placement committee shall be established to prescribe the accelerated instruction the district shall provide to the student before the student is administered the assessment instrument the third time.  The grade placement committee shall be composed of the principal or the principal’s designee, the student’s parent or guardian, and the teacher of the subject of an assessment instrument on which the student failed to perform satisfactorily.” (emphasis added).

Now, the second administration has not occurred yet.  As a result, no Grade Placement Committees have been formed and no course of accelerated instruction can have been prescribed.  Indeed, the parent is a member of the committee and must be involved in developing the Accelerated Instruction plan.  Yet, Mr. Gohl seems to suggest that the decision has been made.  Summer school is required . . . for everyone.  If this is the case, Houston ISD is in plain violation of the law, and has not prescribed a valid accelerated instruction plan.  I would suggest that if Houston ISD is concerned about following the Education Code, it look at itself first.  Get rid of petty bureaucrats like Mr. Gohl who think that the law does not apply to them.

I would also note that a one size fits all summer school prescription goes against everything the concept of Accelerated Instruction is intended to address.  The TEA’s Student Success Initiative Manual is clear on this:

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. The policy governing accelerated instruction is intended to allow districts flexibility to meet individual student needs.” (p. 33).

The idea the summer school is required for STAAR failures is a myth.  The idea that schools can unilaterally impose it is a myth.  Mr. Gohl knows this, but he chooses to ignore the law and try to scare parents into submitting their kids for assessment.

This type of behavior by a public servant is intolerable and I call on the Houston ISD to repudiate it immediately.



R. Scott Placek
Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network

Note: This response does not address numerous other legal errors contained in the letter from Houston ISD.

Update:  Houston ISD has admitted the letter to Opt Out parents contained errors regarding required summer school.  The blame this on an editing error.  Full article here.