Back in April 2014, third grader Diego Geisler stayed home from school for four days in a row.Instead of going to Helms Elementary in the Heights, Diego and his mom Claudia De Leon Geisler went on some field trips. She refused to let him take the third grade STAAR exams in reading and math. It’s called opting out and it’s a growing movement.
Back in April, third grader Diego Geisler stayed home from school for four days in a row. Instead of going to Helms Elementary in the Heights, Diego and his mom Claudia De Leon Geisler went on some field trips. They went out for a special breakfast, visited the zoo and sketched dinosaur bones at the museum. “We have a T-Rex, a spinosaurus and a pterodactyle … and that’s it,” said Diego, flipping through his sketchbook.
Diego didn’t stay home because he was sick. But his mom is sick of something else – standardized testing in school. She refused to let him take the third grade STAAR exams in reading and math. It’s called opting out and it’s a growing movement.
“It’s an expression of my right as a parent to say that I don’t want my child and his data used in this manner because I think it’s unfair to him and as a fallout to his teacher and to the learning environment. I don’t want to be a part of that,” said De Leon, a member of the grassroots organization, Community Voices for Public Education.
She says she’s not against tests themselves – just how they’re used. In particular, she doesn’t believe test scores should be used to reward or punish teachers, especially those who teach children with difficult circumstances at home. In Texas, the high-stakes STAAR exam is used to grade students, schools and, in some districts like Houston, teachers. Like this Houston family, other parents in Texas and across the country are opting out standardized testing.
There’s a Facebook page for Texas parents who want to opt out with more than 10,000 likes. And in places like New York State, the movement has snowballed, according to Bob Schaeffer with the advocacy group FairTest. A district-by-district survey found at least 35,000 students didn’t take the state test there.
“And even in uncustomary places like Oklahoma and Colorado, lots of parents have stood up and said enough is enough to standardized testing overkill. Opting out is a form of civil disobedience,” said Schaeffer. Except the Texas Education Agency says it’s not allowed. “By law you can’t opt your student out of the test,” said DeEtta Culbertson with the TEA. Culbertson said parents can remove their children from a lesson that goes against their personal beliefs. But they can’t skip state tests. “We need to know that our students in Texas are learning and getting the overall education foundation in reading, writing and math that they are going to need to succeed in life,” Culbertson said. That’s why Texas requires students in the fifth and eighth grades to pass the exam to move on to the next level. Diego’s just in third grade. But his mom worried what would happen to him if he didn’t take the exam.
“Would they threaten him with summer school? Would they threaten him with failure?” De Leon wondered. At first Diego was just marked absent. De Leon says she was told her son could go on to fourth grade. But then she opened his final report card a few days ago. “And without a conference or a phone call or a warning, his report card said ‘Retained pending summer school,’” she said. So now her son Diego—who’s made A’s and B’s all year and whose own teacher says he’s mastered all the skills needed for fourth grade—may have to repeat third grade, just because he didn’t take the STAAR test. That’s because some individual districts—like the Houston Independent School District—go beyond the state requirements and require passing the STAAR to graduate from the third grade.
“I as a parent don’t feel that he requires summer school for remediation. And then it would be just a punishment for something really that was out of his control. It was my decision,” De Leon said. De Leon still stands behind that decision. She’s appealing her son’s case and is meeting with the district this week.She hopes more parents will opt out of standardized testing next year. So far those numbers in Texas are fairly low.
Take Diego’s class: Less than 2,000 students statewide didn’t take the third grade reading test. That’s less than one percent of those students.