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.