HISD Has Second Thoughts About Opt-Out Kids and Summer School

Houston ISD Monday dispatched a second letter to parents in which it kind of took back the threat that students who didn't take the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) test had better plan on summer school this year.

Notably absent from this letter signed by Daniel Gohl, was the bold-facing and underlining that added a special threat dimension to his earlier letter of April 23, in which he promised negative consequences to any HISD students in grades 3-8 who decided to opt-out of the standardized tests.

HISD has reportedly said an editing error led to some misconceptions about the intent of the first letter which was never meant to be heavy-handed. (The old adage about a duck comes to mind here... Maybe HISD just didn't want the parents to miss the important parts.)

In the April 23 letter, Gohl (or whoever wrote or edited the letter) sent these words out to parents:

Students who do not take the original test administration or the make-up will not be automatically promoted to the next grade level. They will be scheduled for a Grade Level Placement Committee hearing prior to the start of summer school.

"In this case, students 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."

In the April 27 letter, Gohl (or someone) refers to the previous letter saying "After receiving the letter, some parents expressed concerns about the possibility of summer school being required for students who missed the test."

Isn't that what it said? Is there some between-the-lines secret signals we're missing here?

Now, however, Gohl (or someone) writes: "While some students may be referred to summer school, it's not required in all cases."

He goes on to hope his letter will help "clarify the process and potential ramifications for students who don't take the test. Passing the STAAR is a promotion requirement. The state requires students in fifth and eighth grades to pass STAAR to be promoted. HISD also requires third, fourth, sixth and seventh grade students to meet the same standard. Students who don't meet all district and state promotion requirements are referred to a school-based Grade Placement Committee."

And here's what follows:

• Prior to the start of summer school, the committee -- made up of a student's parents, teachers and campus administrators -- conducts a formal review of grades, attendance records and other assessments. • After the review, the Grade Placement Committee makes an initial determination: to move forward with promotion or require the student to receive additional instruction during summer school. • Students who need additional instruction are reevaluated by the committee at the end of the summer and a final promotion/retention determination is made.

He also clears up the fact that STAAR math results are not part of any promotion calculations this year by either the school district or the state. Score one for the Community Voices for Public Education group that first pointed out he was passing on wrong information.

As sent out in their rapid response letter signed by Ruth Kravetz.

ACCOUNTABILITY: STAAR Math is not a promotion standard this year. HISD's letter states that " results from STAAR reading/English Language Arts and Mathematics are used to satisfy Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP.) This is an error. From TEA yesterday- "There are no federal and state participation or performance accountability measure(s) taken this year for math in TEXAS. Even HISD's promotion standards page indicates that Grades 3-8 STAAR will not be used for promotion in HISD at For the fifteen HISD and 30 non- HISD parents opting out of reading STAAR, there are consequences for the school's accountability rating. Several HISD Board members have communicated with HISD Legal about the error regarding math STAAR.

In his second letter Gohl did point out that "the 2015 math raw score could be used to help identify students in need of extra support over the summer."

Gohl concluded by saying there is no opt out option and the district still expects everyone to attend.

• If a student is absent on test day, a blank score sheet coded with an "A" -- absent -- is submitted to the state on the student's behalf. These score sheets do not negatively impact the grade level proficiency rate, but they do impact the test participation rate, which can have potentially adverse effects on federal accountability ratings. • If a student is present but does not take the test, a blank score sheet coded with "S" -- scored -- is submitted to the state on the student's behalf. Because this answer sheet is blank, it will receive a raw score of zero. These score sheets have a direct impact on grade level proficiency and participation rates.

And now in honor of this whole big mess, take a break, and wait a minute.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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