Tag: summer school

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.

Summer School Action Plan

Thanks to Sherry Neeley who has put together this seven step action plan if you get a notice of summer school.  TPERN notes are in italics.

1) Send the summer school letter

This should be your first response whenever the school tells you unilaterally that your 5th or 8th grader has to go to summer school as a result of STAAR.  Accelerated Instruction decisions (including summer school) are made by a GPC after the results of the second administration are received.  If you have not had a GPC, the school is not following the process.

2) Wait for the GPC.

3) Educate before going in to the GPC

Have you read:

-SSI manual?

This is the most important thing to read.  It makes it clear that AI determined by the GPC should be individualized and that there is great flexibility in what can be agreed upon.  Know the sections about accelerated instruction, and don’t be fooled by statements that specific things (like summer school) are required.  There is so much flexibiity that literally no specific activity is required.

-The GPC guide?

This is a pretty confrontational guide.  It may be needed, but we always encourage parents to enter into the GPC process with the idea that we are here to make an agreement with the school.  Neither side should demand or dictate.  We should all work together to make the best decision for the student.

-seen the summer school info?

4) have some simple at home accelerated instruction plans to offer the school in place of summer school such as Prodigy, Nessy, a reading log, a tutor, a worksheet, etc.

This is very important.  If a school is demanding strict compliance with the law, some AI must be given before the student can be promoted.  How much and what type is completely up to the committee.  Parents can kick start the process by having a clear plan that is matched to the needs of the student.

5) have the waiver of the 3rd assessment completed

Schools do not have to agree to this.  The more documentation of harm to the student you can show, the better. I recommend a note from a medical provider. Even if the school rejects this, you can still refuse to participate.  The waiver is the one time a school can agree to let the parent refuse assessment.  You will learn a lot about their attitude by how they respond to this request.

6) go ahead and have a simple letter typed up that states that you understand that by opting out retention is automatic and this is your formal appeal to the GPC to promote based on grades and classroom performance.

7) know that you can hire a lawyer if things are going badly

The “Required” Summer School Notice

As the first results of the STAAR assessment come in and the days left in the school year slip away, more and more parentsof kids who failed or did not take the first assessment are receiving notices that their kids are “required” to go to summer school.  Round Rock ISD is even sending notices that the district has registered the student for summer school.  They may tell you that if they don’t attend, they will be in violation of the compulsory attendance laws.  They may tell you that unless you attend summer school you can’t be promoted by the GPC. As parents of 5th and 8th graders there is one simple and important fact you need to know:

Schools cannot unilaterally require your child to attend summer school as a result of their STAAR results.

The notices these schools are sending are a blend of truth and fiction, and it is important to understand what part is true and when you need to be concerned about it.  Let’s start with the part that has some truth to it.  The compulsory attendance statute does state that (d)  “Unless specifically exempted by Section 25.086, a student enrolled in a school district must attend:

* * *

(3)  an accelerated instruction program to which the student is assigned under Section 28.0211;

and Section 28.0211 (a-1) states that “[a]ccelerated instruction may require participation of the student before or after normal school hours and may include participation at times of the year outside normal school operations.”

This would seem to indicate that a school really can require your kid to go to summer school if they fail STAAR.  However, for parents of 5th and 8th graders, the key is this.  After the second administration of STAAR, if a child has still not passed, the accelerated instruction must be determined by the Grade Placement Committee that you are a part of.  This is clear in the statute where it states:

“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.”

And the parent is a member of this committee!  In other words, the school may not unilaterally send your kid to summer school for not passing STAAR.  A quick caution, there is no GPC process for grades 3, 4, 6 or 7.  If you get a summer school notice in those grades you will need to either protest and reach a new agreement with the school, exercise your 26.010 opt out rights, or withdraw your child from the school for the summer.

It is apparent based on parental reports that most schools are skipping the GPC meeting after the second administration and sending out summer school notices. So what should the strategy be for parents who are receiving these notices.  The first option would be to request your GPC meeting as soon as the second STAAR assessment is taken and come up with an agreeable Accelerated Instruction plan.  Since there is no required time, length, form or content of accelerated instruction, I recommend that parents propose a short home based or online program.  The more research you have done into what a plan like this would look like, the better chance you have of succeeding.  The school just needs to document their file for the state.  The more you help them do that, the better chance they agree.  The second option would be to simply ignore it.  Any accelerated instruction plan following the second assessment that is created by the school and not by the GPC is legally void.  Make sure that you are looking carefully for notices and do not miss the meeting if your school schedules one.  If you ignore the notice of the GPC meeting, the school can proceed without you.

Finally, please note that when the GPC meets to consider promotion, they are again required to prescribe accelerated instruction.  Further, for 5th and 8th graders note that “A student who fails to perform satisfactorily on an assessment instrument specified under Subsection (a) and who is promoted to the next grade level must complete accelerated instruction required under Subsection (a-1) before placement in the next grade level. A student who fails to complete required accelerated instruction may not be promoted.”  For this reason, it is dangerous to refuse the accelerated instruction that follows the first failed attempt.  It is very important that the parents and the school agree on what that accelerated instruction should be.  Make sure that when you refuse, the schools agreement is specifically phrased as an agreement on accelerated instruction – not just an exemption or excuse.  Again, accelerated instruction can be as simple as a single online lesson or one in school tutorial.  Whatever it is, make sure it is documented and agreed.

The Summer School “Threat”

For 5th and 8th grade students who have received or are about to receive their results, parents commonly hear “if they don’t pass/If they opt out they have to go to summer school.” Please understand, that no school has the authority to tell you that you are going to summer school. By law, accelerated instruction is not decided by the school, the district, the superintendent, or the state. Accelerated instruction is decided by a meeting of the Grade Placement Committee held after the results of the second administration are received. Any “order” or “instruction” issued by anybody other than the Grade Placement Committee is legally invalid.

How will you know if this is a decision of the GPC? Because the parent is a member! Unless you are informed of the meeting, the school cannot hold a GPC meeting. (If you are notified, but don’t attend, the GPC can meet without you.) If there is a GPC meeting, go to it, and demand accelerated instruction that is not summer school. Ask for online learning. Ask for a one day “tutorial”. Ask for a home study/remediation plan. The SSI manual is clear that accelerated instruction has no legally necessary form, length or content. It must be individualized. Show them that in the SSI manual and make them choose the right plan for your child. These are your rights. If the summer school order comes any other way, ignore it. It is not valid.

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.

Sincerely,

 

R. Scott Placek
Chairman
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.

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.

Schools: STOP THE LIES

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.

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.

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