HISD Threatens Kids Who Opt Out of STAAR Testing With Summer School

Parents of children in the Houston ISD were told by letter Thursday that there will be "negative consequences" (HISD's emphasis) for any student who doesn't show for next week's state of Texas standardized tests for grades 3-8 next week.

A letter signed by Daniel Gohl, HISD's special assistant, academics, says that anyone planning on joining the opt-out test movement -- by, say, not showing up for school during testing -- would do well to think again.

"There is no 'option' to permit your child to opt-out of STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) Testing," he wrote (again, boldfaced parts are Gohl's) before going on to threaten kids who don't test with weeks of summer school.

Across the country these days, an increasing number of parents are rejecting the interminable standardized testing going on in most public schools. The notion that enough is enough has gained sufficient traction that even school board members and legislators are taking up the too-much-testing cause.

But HISD, which uses results from STAAR testing as part of its teacher evaluations, is standing firm. Gohl says students who don't take the test are subject to the following"

-- They'll get a zero score and be deemed non-proficient.

-- Those who are absent will take a make-up test. If the parents put a request in writing that the student be allowed to opt out of the test or the make-up test, the Texas Education Agency will be notified and the score will be reported as zero.

-- Students who don't take the test will not automatically be promoted to the next grade. They will have to attend summer school and be re-evaluated by a committee at the end of the summer for promotion or retention, his letter threatens promises.

Response was equally swift from Ruth Kravetz of Community Voices for Public Education who sent out her own emailed letter detailing tactics parents can employ to skip the tests as well as "a quick summary of errors in the opt out letter HISD sent HISD parents today as an intimidation tactic."

Kravetz says Gohl and HISD are misinterpreting Texas school policy guidelines when it says the kids would have to go to summer school. Excerpts from her letter:

Factual errors in this opt out response letter from the HISD Board.

1. HOW a district SCORES your child's exam: HISD is stating that they will submit a zero for absent students. Absent students who are out sick or miss the administration generally receive a "not scored" response, not a zero. The reason that opt out parents stayed away from school is so that the school would not need to submit a zero for the score. HISD is making a choice. For those who have submitted a refuse letter, they are submitting a zero score.

2. 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. 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.

3. HISD is misinterpreting state SSI [Student Success Initiative] guidelines when it states in its letter that students who miss STAAR reading must attend summer school. In Grade Placement Committee, STAAR (or lack of it) may not be the only measure used to determine promotion. Students must complete accelerated instruction (or have plans) prior to the next school year if they fail or miss the STAAR but accelerated instruction need not be summer school. We will provide more information about grade placement committee and what constitutes accelerated instruction in follow up correspondence. Thank you for your patience.

4. Feel free to ignore their letter to you. We will provide more details once we get assistance from HISD Board members, TEA and a lawyer who knows TEA Code well. Know that no school district may change policy after the fact.

The testing window is April 20-24. There will be no more math STAAR administrations this year after Friday's remaining makeup day. There will be two more reading STAAR administrations in HISD, one in May and one at the end of June. This is per TEA.

Parents can keep their child home on Friday, April 24. Parents can arrive after 11:45 am and not test since the TEA testing manual states that "a student who arrives after a test session has begun may be tested if sufficient time remains in the day to provide the student with the allowed time for testing." means that a test may not be administered to a student after 12 pm since testing may not extend beyond 4 pm. Talk to your principal or call one of us and we will. No principal has stated that they will administer two STAAR assessments in a single day. If your principal has stated they will do this, please let us know. Other districts have treated opt out parents more supportively than HISD. Unless a student arrives before the school day starts, this is not allowed per TEA guidelines. ABSENCE: Parents may submit a hand-written note upon returning to school indicating that the child was out sick for up to 5 consecutive days without a doctor's note. This means the absence is excused. Your child's test is not scored.

So the game is on and we'll see who blinks first. Let's just hope none of the kids get hit by the shrapnel.

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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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