FAQ: The Truth About Opting Out of the STAAR in Houston ISD
[COVID related updates are forthcoming.]
Q: If I Opt Out will my child still be promoted?
- If your children are in 3rd, 4th, 6th or 7th grades in Houston ISD or most other districts and you opt them out of the STAAR test and they pass their classes and meet the 90% attendance rule, they must be promoted without any additional discussion. The HISD suspended STAAR as a promotion standard for the 2016-17 academic year in grades 3,4, 6 and 7.
- In 5th and 8th grade, STAAR Science and Social Studies are not promotion standards. If your children fail or opt out of the STAAR Science or Social Studies test, they will be promoted as long as they pass their classes and meet attendance guidelines. A student’s total number of unexcused absences cannot exceed 10% of class meetings.
- Grade 5 and 8 STAAR Math and Reading: While STAAR reading and math are promotion standards at grades 5 and 8, a child cannot be retained or required to attend summer school, without a grade placement committee (GPC), of which the parent is a member. The GPC is mandated by state regulations to look at a child's entire academic record, not just the STAAR results (or lack of them). Based on the child's ENTIRE academic record, the GPC (including you, the parent) makes a decision about any "accelerated instruction" (extra help) that may be required for promotion to the next grade. Summer school may not be unilaterally required for any students without a GPC decision. The type and length of accelerated instruction is not specified in Texas Education Code. It should be what is in the best interest of the child. It may take many forms, including summer school, tutoring, reading with a parent, etc. The GPC is comprised of people who know your child and is not something to be feared.
- In high school, a child must pass five end of course STAAR assessments in order to graduate. However, a new law, Texas SB 149, states that if a child passes only three of the five STAAR EOCs (end of course exams), an individual graduation committee can meet to determine whether that student may graduate.
EVERY STUDENT WHO OPTED OUT LAST YEAR IN HOUSTON ISD WAS PROMOTED TO THE NEXT GRADE, and all of them went through the GPC process.
Q: Will my child automatically have to go to summer school if he/she doesn’t take the STAAR?
- If your children are in 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th grades and they pass their classes, they must be promoted without any additional discussion. Summer school cannot be required for promotion.
- In 5th and 8th grade, STAAR Science and Social Studies are not promotion standards. If your children fail or opt out of the STAAR Science or Social Studies test, they will be promoted as long as they pass their classes and meet attendance guidelines. Period.
- If your child is in 5th or 8th grade, STAAR Math and Reading are promotion standards. If your child opts out of or fails STAAR Math and/or Reading, a grade placement committee (GPC) must look at the child's entire academic record and determine what accelerated instruction (extra help), if any, is required for promotion. If your child has passed his/her classes and has proven mastery of the curricula, there should be no need for additional instruction. If there is a learning need, the GPC makes a determination about what accelerated instruction is necessary for your child. You, the parent, are part of this process.
Q: Is my school allowed to give as many practice STAAR tests to my child as it wants?
Answer: Legislation (HB 5) passed in 2013 prohibits districts from administering more than two benchmark tests per state assessment, excluding administration of college prep assessments such as the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP exams, etc. Additionally, districts are prohibited from administering any locally-required test designed to prepare students for state-administered tests on more than 10 percent of instructional days; campus site-based decision making committees may approve an even lower percentage of days. Most school districts are in violation of the law and "get around" the legislation by saying that the practice tests are teacher-created or optional. If you are concerned about your child receiving illegal practice tests, report it to your HISD School Board representative.
Q: If I opt out will the teacher/principal/school get fired/fined/reprimanded?
Answer: No. Other schools around the country have dropped below the federally required 95% participation rate and NO SCHOOL HAS LOST FUNDING YET. Over 600,000 parents across the country last year refused the test and not one school lost funding. It is possible that a school could lose some funding, but what is worse--standing up and refusing to be scared of the miniscule chance that the school could face sanctions for its participation rate, or continuing with the same system that we know is broken? Join a movement of parents demanding a rich and well-rounded curriculum and stand up for a better education system. The threats have thus far proven to be empty.
Q: Will this affect my child's grades?
Answer: No, the STAAR is an end-of-year evaluation and is not used as a grading tool. The class work and assignments given by teachers are used to grade your child and are independent of the STAAR test. STAAR practice tests and the STAAR assessment itself may not be used in determining a child's class grade. If you are concerned that a teacher is using benchmark scores or other practice tests as grades, report it to your HISD School Board representative.
Q: If I opt my child out of STAAR or my child fails an exam, can my principal deny my child electives the following academic year?
Answer: No. HB 5 adopted by the State Legislature in 2013 limits the removal of students from class for test prep or tutoring to no more than 10 percent of the school days on which the class is offered, unless the parent gives written consent. You can read more in the TEA Code Section 25.083, summarized here.
Q: Will opting out affect my child's relationship with his teacher/school administrator?
Answer: No, it absolutely shouldn’t. The district has a firm anti-bullying policy to help prevent any such discrimination. The Houston ISD School Board also passed an Opt Out Policy in November 2015 that stated that no negative consequences are to occur based on a parent’s decision to opt his/her child out of testing. In the rare event that you or your child are singled out by a teacher or principal because of this decision, please contact email@example.com or your board member and someone will respond promptly to help you.
Q: What about high school STAAR?
Answer: A high school student must pass five STAAR end of course (EOC) assessments (Algebra I, Biology, English I, English II and US History) in order to receive a high school diploma. There is an exception, Texas SB 149, passed in the Texas Legislature in 2015. This legislation allows individual graduation committees, an alternative path to graduation, for students who have passed all courses for graduation but have failed up to two end-of-course assessments. It was renewed in 2019.
Q: Will my child be the only one opting out?
Answer: Definitely not. Hundreds of families across the Houston area, several thousand families in Texas, and 620,000 children nationwide refused to take the STAAR test. And this year, our movement is growing, and there will be more. There is power in numbers and we need to use it! If you’d like to speak to any of last year's Houston families, please let us know.
Q: How much testing and test-prep is really happening in schools? Is everyone just overreacting?
Answer: Last year, HISD first graders were administered 16 “snapshots,” or practice tests for the STAAR. This increased by grade level all the way to more than 30 practice tests for sixth graders. Things improved slightly this year when some schools were allowed to cut back on this testing, but it didn’t happen on every campus, and effects of the high stakes testing culture are still widespread and pervasive. Students often no longer read books, and instead, read test passages. They are taught “strategies” and tips on how to do well on the multiple choice test instead of learning to love to learn and read.
These tests have narrowed the curriculum so that often, only what is on the STAAR test is being taught. Teachers must move at an extremely fast pace to "get everything in." Everyone, including students with severe learning disabilities and limited English proficiency, is expected to be in the same place by the time the test is administered. Expectations that were once reserved for older children are pushed down to younger and younger students. Teachers are demoralized and are required to emphasize test prep, particularly in the spring semester, each year.
Additionally, many of our schools do not have essential personnel, such as nurses, librarians, and counselors because these vital positions have been replaced by testing coordinators and tutors brought in to raise test scores. Our schools and their curricula are revolving around STAAR, the one high stakes metric whereby we measure schools, principals, teachers, AND students. Our children are receiving a multiple choice education, and it is killing their creativity, their critical thinking and problem solving skills, and their love of learning.
Q: Isn't my magnet school different? Aren't we exempt from this sort of testing culture?
Answer: Unfortunately, all public and charter schools, regardless of their mission and pedagogy, are required to administer STAAR, which is a high stakes test. Magnet schools must therefore administer numerous practice tests, and, usually, significant amounts of test prep.
Q: How do I go about opting my child out?
Answer: Sign up here and keep your child out of school on testing days and make up days (the school can make your child take the test any day of the week that the test is administered). Consider scheduling doctor's appointments during STAAR testing to guarantee an excused absence. However, you are not required to inform the school of your intention to opt out. For more information, please contact us to receive more detailed opt out information.
Main Opt Out website: optouttexas.org