We Opt Out of STAAR – Here’s Why

It’s the Spring Semester!  That means the STAAR is coming!

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Within the glorious state of Texas we have a standardized assessment called the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness or STAAR.

This assessment is administered annually to our children from 3rd grade through high school.

Why am I putting the word assessment in bold?

BECAUSE IT IS NOT A TEST!

THIS IS A FACT!  Don’t believe me?  Look it up!  (And by the way, it’s even in the name.)

If one could heap together all of the feces of every living animal on the planet, the overwhelming assault on our senses that ginormous pile would produce MIGHT come close to the assault that the STAAR wrecks upon the lives of our children.

And I’m not talking about just dyslexic children, I literally mean all children within our glorious state.

Background:

Within the first few weeks of school my son came home from school all amped up, waving his arms, talking 100 mph about the STAAR and how it was apparently life altering if he didn’t pass it.  (Note this is extremely out of character behavior for my son.)

He knows he’s dyslexic and he is vastly aware of his challenge with reading.  He knows that he needs help and that he works very hard on his reading and is doing very well, and yet suddenly this THING is being thrust in front of him that his entire 8 year old life is going to be hinged upon?

Um, no.

I quickly told him that he wasn’t taking it.  He said he was told he didn’t have a choice and I didn’t have a say.  I laughed and said, wrong on all counts.  “I am your mother and I CALL THE SHOTS.  NO ONE ELSE!  YOU ARE NOT TAKING THE STAAR!”

He visibly calmed down.

In late September I was handed a reading assessment of my son by the dyslexia interventionist that said he could only read at a PK4 level.  Well, if my mind hadn’t been made up before it was certainly made up upon seeing that piece of paper. 

When I said, in that same meeting, that we were opting out because I did not believe he could pass the reading portion, the entire team went up in arms and asked how I could say such a thing?!? They were incensed that I would imply that my dyslexic son couldn’t pass the STAAR.

I boldly waived that stupid piece of paper in the air and said, “YOU JUST TOLD ME HE CANNOT READ AT A PK4 LEVEL BUT YOU SAY HE CAN PASS THE 3RD GRADE STAAR WHICH IS 5TH GRADE MATERIAL?!?  GET YOUR STORIES STRAIGHT!  EITHER HE CANNOT READ OR HE CAN!!!  THIS DOES NOT WORK BOTH WAYS!!!”

By the way, my son’s reading ability was far beyond a PK4 level.  Those assessments of his reading level do not fit into his learning style and ability and will NEVER judge him appropriately.  FACT!

Fast forward to April, just a couple of weeks before the STAAR.  He’s worked very hard all year and has made quite good grades in reading (C’s and B’s) as well as his other classes. He is given a STAAR prep assessment, without my knowledge and against my wishes.  He made a 59.  The teacher, who was really extremely wonderful in every way, tells him this is passing on the STAAR and he should be proud.  He said, “It’s an F!  Why should I be proud of an F?!?”

What Went Down:

http://www.txedrights.net is a god send.  Their information is robust and the step by step guide is very helpful.

If (I should say when) the school starts the well scripted tactics of saying you can’t opt your child out of a TEST, the resources are on that website as well.  When and if the school escalates their tactics to fairly threatening in nature, retaining the attorney who founded the site it also very easy.

Having spoken to him at length, he is a good man to know.  The consultation fee isn’t that much and sometimes you need to pay it just for peace of mind.  Let me explain.

The email exchange back and forth with the school had my husband in copy.  One of the emails from the school threatened to retain our son if he did not take the STAAR.

Well, as you can imagine, that created a very stressful 3 hour discussion (argument) while we debated the validity of the school claims.

Bear in mind:

  • Our son is classified as Special Education for his dyslexia
  • Made A’s, B’s and C’s on his report card
  • Had completed all graded work before the administration of STAAR
  • The grade books for the school year were completed before STAAR was administered so nothing was pending

The only piece going against us was his absence count.

By missing the 5 days of the STAAR administration week for 3rd grade he was going to exceed the 10% threshold for absences.  All absences up to that point were excused and he was going to have a doctor’s appointment almost every day of the 5 days he was going to miss.

The reason for so many absences is that our son has inherited my migraines.  He comes by them honestly.  Both my husband and I have them as well as both of our mothers, but as it was explained to me by our pediatric neurologist who is one of the leading practitioners in his field, the tendency for migraines comes 100% from the mother.

Yeah, thanks doc.

Well, like all children with dyslexia, there’s a certain amount of anxiety that he copes with.  This emanates in the form of a) migraines and b) stomach aches.  Both can cause him to miss school, but most especially the migraines.

Interesting little tidbit here about migraines.  In boys and girls they are equal in severity and frequency up to puberty, then in puberty the scales shift rather dramatically.  Girls typically get worse with their fluctuating hormones thanks to their menstrual cycles, but boys typically get better (not well but better) as they don’t have that hormonal component feeding the monster.  So there’s hope for my son.

We also have a doctor’s note on file to cover the migraines and he has a Triptan based prescription drug to assist when they hit him hard so he can recover quickly, but that doesn’t always happen.

So, back to the fight.

The threat of retention scared my husband to death.  We had worked so hard on his dyslexia remediation and our son was working his tail off and my husband’s fear, as much as he trusts me, was that I was misguided here and opting him out of the STAAR would result in severe consequences on which I was ill informed.  For three hours we debated the threat, and even my retention of legal counsel was not settling my husband’s fears as much as I’d hoped.

He agreed with me 100% that the STAAR was a horrific device that would not measure anything meaningful about our son’s comprehension of the material presented in school, that because of our son’s dyslexia, the assessment would be a significant struggle and an unfair stressor and meaningless benchmark on nothing we cared about since the material is absolute garbage.

He did feel that repeated opting out was not teaching him how to take these kinds of tests to which I immediately corrected, “It’s not a test it’s an assessment,” then asked, “Since the SAT in high school, when have you EVER taken another assessment like this?”  Naturally he said he hadn’t.

See, in the business world, these types of ASSESSMENTS do not exist.  Don’t tell me that these teach you how to take a “test” because that’s crap.  Prove to me by showing me real scientific evidence that this specific assessment is a real barometer on how to succeed in life and I’ll start singing a different tune, but the reality is that doesn’t exist.  Prove to me how the majority of positions one can hold in the business world is hinged upon the ability to frequently take assessments like this.  Show me one single person that continues to take these kinds of assessments, and note that pursuing academic degrees and thus having to sit for ABC exams (GRE, MCAT, LSAT, etc.) DOES NOT COUNT because that’s still school.  Prove to me how any college final is like this kind of assessment, and I don’t mean using scan tron forms to fill in multiple choice answers on a regular school test because it just doesn’t compare, not even slightly.

I keep deviating from the fight.

So, the lawyer was the one who had to talk my husband off the cliff.  I was staunchly holding my ground that our son was not going to take the STAAR because I was not going to deal with the ramifications of the results and how that would impact him academically in the contrived educational system that exists within the state of Texas.  Our lawyer assured my husband these were blustering tactics and that we were within our legal right to opt out.

As far as the retention threat was concerned, the lawyer actually laughed and said, “Bring it on! I’d like to see them actually try it because this is going to be fun.”

The facts and policy were in our favor.  An admin with http://www.txedrights.net located my ISD’s board and district policies that stated, that in the event of excessive absences, passing our son to the next grade, with his grades in tact, was at the discretion of the school principal or his designated agent.  While retention was possible, it wasn’t the preferred action if the grades were adequate (they were), all school work was completed (it was) and the reasons for the excessive absences were reasonable (they were).  The fact that our son was a Special Education student was just an extra layer of protection.

Going into STAAR, we were at a stalemate.  Despite numerous conversations and letters between the school and I, they continued to threaten retention and I continued to hold my ground, and my son was absent the entire week of STAAR.

To add to the drama, they waited until the very last two days of school to inform me of their “to retain or not” decision.   

The lawyer and I waited with baited breath until that lovely little email came across one day and it danced around a clear answer, but in overly complicated language, stated he had been passed onto the next grade.  Due to the language used, comma placement, etc. in the original email which was open to too much interpretation, I emailed back and asked for a black and white answer, was he being passed or retained?

The second email came just minutes later that said the magic word: Passed.

And this was just third grade!!!!!!  OMG!!!!  I couldn’t wait for school to end so I could decompress because that fried the very last of my brain cells.  I needed to disconnect and recharge.  As my friend Becky calls it, I needed a “Dyslexia Detox.”

The lawyer felt like we won and berating the subject at that time wouldn’t win us anything other than a fight, and that it would all happen over again in 4th grade, so chalk it up as a win and brace for next year.  I quickly agreed.

Here are a few reasons I hate the STAAR:

  • College boards allow reading passages to be read to dyslexic students, but the STAAR’s reading passage must be read by the student with no assistance.
  • The STAAR material is 2 grade levels ahead of the grade the child is actually in, if not more than 2.
  • The school spends most of the year teaching to the STAAR and not focusing on actual curriculum development.
  • Starting at age 8, an enormous amount of stress is placed on the child to pass this ridiculous assessment which can (and does) have physical and emotional ramifications.
  • Children are forced to sit, at far too young of an age, for hours at a desk with no talking, no real and reasonable breaks, to take this assessment. 
  • The assessment has never been independently verified so it’s validity is questionable at best.
  • STAAR data is not used to address achievement gaps.  Straight A students can and do fail the STAAR and are then told they have to take remediation classes so they can take it again and pass.  Something is very clearly broken here people!
  • Prove, and I mean REALLY PROVE, how the STAAR prepares our students for college or the workforce?  Colleges DO NOT CARE about STAAR scores.  No employer is ever going to ask how they did on the STAAR.  To quote http://www.txedrights.net:
    • “The demands of the modern workplace require creative problem solving, initiative and higher order thinking.  Higher education requires critical thinking and the ability to demonstrate writing and comprehension skills across the curriculum.  Most tests include many topics that are not important, while many important areas are not included on standardized tests because they cannot be measured by such tests. Teaching to the test does not produce real and sustained gains on independent learning measures.”
  • Grading and funding of school districts is tied to STAAR performance and is a tool for the TEA to take over districts.  The number of issues within that statement alone are too numerous to count.  Now our legislature is talking about school finance and they’re saying that future funding will be based on STAAR.  That proposal is rife with failure in so many ways.  Yes, let’s make STAAR worse, not better.  Let’s just turn our little children into automatons who spit out information on demand that has no bearing in their life for their age and stage.  Let’s penalize the percentage of students that are ESL, have a learning disability, etc.

Fight With Us:

I’m going to stop with the bullet points before I get more angry than I already am.

The facts are there.  With only minor digging, the blasphemy that is STAAR as an educational tool can be unearthed.  I say unearthed but really it’s all on the surface and lots of people fight for it’s abolition.  Until more people scream and opt out of this garbage it may stay with us.  Even if your children are normative and do great on the STAAR, please consider opting out.  Yes, the school is going to try to scare you to absolute death, but it’s all baseless.  You are the parent!  You have this very LEGAL right to opt out.

Join the fight!  Opt out of STAAR!

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