Categories
STAAR | EOC Testing

STAAR Madness: TEA or Local Decisions

This is a tough time for Opt Out parents because the assessment is happening and there is a lot of pushback. When complaints come, the natural response is to blame the TEA.  But is that fair?  Is that accurate?  Everybody here understands that the TEA tells schools how to administer the assessment and to score refused assessments. Everyone here understands how promotion and graduation work. What people fail to acknowledge is that, apart from that, schools have wide latitude in how they choose to respond to parents who refuse assessment.  There are many things I have seen excused as TEA “requirements” that just aren’t.

NOBODY requires schools to lie to parents about consequences.
NOBODY requires schools to benchmark, practice assess and otherwise do full or mini-assessments as prep for STAAR multiple times a semester.
NOBODY requires schools to go beyond the instructions and add restrictions on to the students (like requiring them to sit for four hours after finishing/refusing assessment),
NOBODY requires schools to threaten retention
NOBODY requires schools to pretend passing STAAR is the only way to get promoted to the next grade.
NOBODY requires schools to not check if substitute assessments have already satisfied some EOC requirements.
NOBODY requires schools to try to bully A/B students into summer school (I mean test prep) because they didn’t take STAAR.
NOBODY requires principals to try to intimidate parents into submitting their kids for assessment.
NOBODY requires schools to wait until August to promote kids by GPC if they refused STAAR.
NOBODY requires schools to harass parents of kids who aren’t at school on STAAR day.
NOBODY requires teachers to tell students they their jobs depend on how the student does on STAAR.
NOBODY requires schools to lock down the building and ban visitors on STAAR days.
NOBODY requires schools to tell students they can’t talk to their parents about STAAR.
NOBODY requires students to eat sack lunches at their desk on STAAR days.
NOBODY requires schools to keep non-testing kids inside and ban recess on STAAR days.

and

NOBODY requires schools to offer even a single make up day for STAAR, much less a two week window!!!

These are all local decisions and it is not off limits to talk about. We opt out because we want you to have the freedom to teach. But we expect local districts to do what they can (and that’s a lot) to make sure that it does not make the STAAR environment worse than it already is. If your school or district is doing any of those things, and you try to blame the TEA for it, then you are going to get pushback here, because it’s false information.

 

Categories
Accountability STAAR | EOC Testing

Who’s To Blame

This is a tough time for Opt Out parents because the assessment is happening and there is a lot of pushback at the school level. Sadly, this year more than ever it seems a number of school district employees have entered the TTAAS Facebook group intent on excusing every complaint a parent has. WRONG strategy this week. Just empathize. Empathize and don’t deflect. Everybody here understands that the TEA tells schools how to administer the assessment and to score refused assessments. Everyone here understands how promotion and graduation work. What people fail to acknowledge is that, apart from that, schools have wide latitude in how they choose to respond to parents who refuse assessment. If a parent complaint hurts and you respond by blaming the TEA for a local decision, I (and likely others) am going to challenge you. In the same vein, when a parent blames a school for a TEA mandate, we are quick to correct them as well. But there are many things I have seemed excused as TEA “requirements” that just aren’t.

NOBODY requires schools to lie to parents about consequences.
NOBODY requires schools to go beyond the instructions and add restrictions on to the students,
NOBODY requires schools to threaten retention
NOBODY requires schools to pretend passing STAAR is the only way to get promoted to the next grade.
NOBODY requires schools to not check if substitute assessments have already satisfied some EOC requirements.
NOBODY requires schools to try to bully A/B students into summer school (I mean test prep) because they didn’t take STAAR.
NOBODY requires principals to try to intimidate parents into submitting their kids for assessment.
NOBODY requires schools to wait until August to promote kids by GPC is they refused STAAR.
NOBODY requires schools to harass parents of kids who aren’t at school on STAAR day.
NOBODY requires teachers to tell students they their jobs depend on how the student does on STAAR.
NOBODY requires schools to lock down the building and ban visitors on STAAR days.
NOBODY requires schools to hold students who have finished their STAAR in the classroom until the end of the entire testing time.
NOBODY requires schools to tell students they can’t talk to their parents about STAAR.
NOBODY requires students to eat sack lunches at their desk on STAAR days.

These are all local decisions, and if you think it is off limits to talk about that, we are not on the same side at all. If your school or district is doing any of those things, and you try to blame the TEA for it, then you are going to get pushback here, because it’s false information.  If your distrct makes bad local decisions, CHANGE them.  If you think they are correct, OWN them.  Don’t push the blame onto the TEA for local decisions.  We have plenty of things to blame the TEA for without getting into things they haven’t done.

Categories
STAAR | EOC Testing

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.

 

 

Categories
STAAR | EOC Testing Testing Irregularity

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.

Categories
English Language Learners | ELL Section 504 | Special Education STAAR | EOC Testing

TPERN Opposes Proposed STAAR Percentile Rule

On December 19, 2014, the TEA published a proposed amendment to 19 TAC §101.3041, dealing with STAAR performance standards.  This proposed rule ostensibly provides for the publication of percentile ranks on the STAAR, theoretically making comparison between test takers easier.  (TPERN believes that the purpose of an academic readiness assessment is to determine readiness of the individual student, not to provide for comparisons to other students).  However, the rule is confusing and raises the possibility that the published information could be misused by school districts in making promotion and retention decisions.  Moreover, the TEA found it necessary to publish a proposed formula for converting all STAAR scores to a 1-100 scale.  While the current formula is simply a restatement of what a percentile is, the inclusion of the formula leaves the conversion method open to amendment.  The formula could later be altered to create a “grade” that is percentile based, but not the actual percentile rank.  We think this is an improper use of an assessment instrument, and the rule should prohibit local districts from using the 1 – 100 percentile based score as a part of grades or promotion or retention decisions.  For that reason, TPERN has submitted a public comment in opposition to the rule urging various revisions before the rule is adopted.

Public comment on this proposed rule is open until January 20, 2015.  Comments may be mailed to rules@tea.state.tx.us

To view the TPERN submitted comment, click Read More

Categories
STAAR | EOC Testing

Reviewing Your Child’s STAAR Assessment – A Step by Step Guide

On June 27, 2014, Kyle and Jennifer Massey did something that the Texas Education Agency and local school districts had spent years denying was possible: they reviewed the STAAR assessment booklet and answer sheet that was administered to their child.  Previous requests by parents had been met with denials that ranged from “that’s not possible” to “that’s illegal.”  However, the Texas Education Code is very clear on this issue: “a parent is entitled to access to a copy of each state assessment instrument administered under Section 39.023 to the parent’s child.” (Sec. 26.005).  With four volunteers, the law firm of Arnold & Placek set out to see what would happen when parents decided to stop taking no for an answer and demand the legal rights the Texas legislature granted to them.  The answer came today: parents do have a right to review their child’s test booklet and answer sheet.  They are not confined to the unhelpful summary data on the STAAR scoring reports.  This right of access is the first step in ending the secrecy and almost mystical air that surrounds the STAAR tests.  Teachers are threatened with criminal charges or loss of their teaching certifications if they dare to even ask their students what problems were difficult for them.  But parents still have a voice.  We are not required to sit back and accept that it is not possible to know the content of the assessment that our state legislators have dictated will control our children’s futures.  The Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network encourages all Texas parents to request and review the STAAR assessments administered to their children.  This guide will tell you how to do it.

Categories
STAAR | EOC Testing

TEA Publishes Misleading SSI Document

We have recently been made aware of a document published by the TEA that implies that 5th and 8th graders who do not pass STAAR reading and mathematics exams cannot be promoted.  This piece of test propaganda completely omits the promotion process created by law by the Texas Legislature, that permits a Grade Placement Committee to make an individualized promotion decision on any child who has not taken or passed the STAAR reading or mathematics examination.  This omission is clearly designed to pressure parents into assenting to STAAR testing that they may feel unnecessary or detrimental to the education of their children.  We call upon the Texas Education Agency to withdraw this document from public use and include factual information on promotion paths on any future publications.

Not the whole story
Not the whole story

Categories
STAAR | EOC Testing

How the TEA Forces Schools to Manipulate STAAR Data

In the El Paso Times recently, the paper reported on a petition by the Texas Education Agency to revoke the certifications of 11 educators accused of being part of a cheating scandal.  According to the paper, “[t[he petition accuses most of the respondents of participating in a scheme to falsify federal accountability reports, or knowing of the scheme but doing nothing to stop it.” (Full report here).

Federal accountability reports can cover many things, but we know one thing it covers is the progress of schools, districts and the state in meeting the No Child Left Behind Act’s requirements that every school make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).  As we explained in our article on Data Manipulation, absences on test days hurt districts more than failed assessments because of the formula for calculating AYP.  The TEA is engaged in a scheme to distort the number of students actually assessed by the STAAR exam.

People may disagree about the STAAR testing system, but one thing we can all agree on is that a student who does not take the test has not been tested.  They have not been assessed.  No data has been captured with which any assessment of academic readiness could possibly be made.  This is true whether the student is sick or present but refuses to be tested.  Any action resulting in a report that claims a student that refuses the test has actually been tested is misleading, if not overtly false.  Yet that is precisely the system that the TEA not only tolerates, but insists that districts implement.  According to Canyon ISD, this directive comes directly from the TEA’s Director of Test Administration.  Yet nobody from the TEA is being investigated or threatened with having their education certificates revoked.

In Amarillo, a parent sent Canyon ISD a letter pointing out that there are two other codes available to accurately report that a student has not been tested, and asking that her daughter, who had refused the assessment, not be reported as having taken the assessment.  In response, the District sent this letter:

we score refused tests

Now this may appear innocuous on its face.  Assigning a zero for not taking a test would be a common tactic in the classroom.  However, with an assessment designed to meet federal accountability standards, the effect goes beyond the score report placed in the student’s file.  It turns into a representation to the federal government and the taxpayers of Texas that the student has actually been assessed.  The student, by Canyon ISD’s own admission, refused to be assessed.  She was not tested in any way.  But consider this data box from the statewide summary report generated by the TEA.

how s becomes a lie

As you can see, the report clearly contemplates that some students will not be tested for reasons other than absence.  Yet not a single student who refuses the test is accurately reported in that category.  Instead, their data is lumped into the number of students actually tested.  Their zero becomes just another student that does not meet minimum standards.  Because there is no score averaging in accountability assessment, a zero means the same thing to a school as a student who fails by one question.  However, for the district and TEA, the zero becomes evidence that the 95% test participation requirement has been met.  These numbers then get placed on federal reports and are used to justify continued receipt of federal funds.  Perhaps it is time for someone to investigate whether the people who came up with this data manipulation tactic are “participating in a scheme to falsify federal accountability reports, or knowing of the scheme but doing nothing to stop it.”

Categories
STAAR | EOC Testing

The TEA, STAAR and Data Manipulation

Consistent reports from the April administration of the STAAR exam show a disturbing trend for parents who send their children to school and refuse the test.  Whether the child ever opens the test booklet or not, the TEA is instructing all districts to mark the exam S for “Score.”  This code ensures that the student is counted as participating in the STAAR examination and places a score of zero into the record of the child.  The TEA’s rationale for this is contradictory, particularly given the existence of other more appropriate codes for a refusal.  Both codes * and O more accurately represent the circumstances that exist when a child refuses to take the STAAR exam.  So why does the TEA mark the exam “Score” and record a zero for the child?

Lisa Cottle, with the TEA, states that TEA is required by statute to administer the exam to all students.  This is true, but that is a separate question from whether the exam is, in fact, taken by the student.  The TEA also contends that the education code requires a demonstration of proficiency for grade promotion, and the STAAR test is one measure of proficiency.  However, this rationale completely lays bare the lunacy of scoring a refused exam.  What could a zero on an exam that was not taken possibly tell a grade placement committee about the student’s academic readiness?  If the TEA cared about accurately evaluating academic readiness, they would assure that no misleading scores were contained in a student’s records.  Yet coding an untaken exam as S for score has the precise opposite effect.

So why, then, are school districts adamant about scoring refused STAAR exams and recording results?  The answer is two simple words: data manipulation.  Under the federal No Child Left Behind act, schools are required to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward total proficiency.  The STAAR test is Texas’s measuring stick.  However, the NCLB makes sure that schools can’t cherry pick the test takers by requiring that 95% of all students in all subgroups take the annual tests in order to meet AYP.  In a small school or demographically small subgroup, even one child missing the test can significantly impact that participation total.  In fact it may more drastically impact AYP attainment than failing the assessment with a zero.

To understand why, you must understand how AYP works. AYP is an improvement based index.  Thus, if a school has 30% proficiency in a subgroup one year, but 37% the next, it could meet AYP even with 63% of students in that subgroup failing to demonstrate proficiency.  However, if the participation rate drops below 95%, the rest of the results don’t matter — AYP cannot be met.  Thus, for a school, it is better to fail a child but report that he participated than to tell the truth that he was not tested.  A failing score hurts the school less than non-participation.  The impact on the child is unimportant to the data gatherers.  It’s all about making the numbers.

This is data manipulation at its basest level.  The school is lying to the state and federal government, and to all parents on its annual report card, when it represents that a child was tested when he was not.  But that is what the system has come to.  It is more important to claim people were tested when they weren’t than to accurately report that a child was not assessed.  The TEA supports this subterfuge, and districts happily participate — all in the name of AYP attainment.

– Scott Placek