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.