What if the state of Texas threw a high stakes test and nobody showed up for it?
This week begins the first round of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). At the elementary level, this mandated test requires that all third, fourth and fifth graders take the test. Supposedly, fifth graders need to pass the test in order to be promoted to the sixth grade. Last year 25% of the fifth grade students who took the STAAR test failed.
But did you know that there is a growing nation-wide movement of parents who are opting their children out of these high-stakes tests by simply not attending school on testing days and make-up days? In Texas these parents even have a Facebook page: Texas Parents Opt Out of State Testing.
Opt-Out parents are concerned about the over-testing, pressure from these tests for students and teachers, and the lack of transparency about how these scores are ultimately going to be used. They believe that the STAAR test has no relevance to the academic career of students: they are not diagnostic and ultimately replace higher order critical thinking skills with drill and kill instruction.
Even the promotion requirement of passing the STAAR is a little hazy. According the an article on the Times Record News website, “Even though the Texas Education Code Chapter 28, Subchapter B, Section 28.011 says fifth- and eighth-graders must have satisfactory performance on the state tests for promotion, in actuality, a grade placement committee of administrator, teacher and parent decides whether exceptions can be made to promote a student despite a poor test score or, perhaps, a nonexistent one.”
In the same article, this statement was confirmed by the Texas Education Authority, DeEtta Culbertson, a TEA spokesperson, who said that when a child misses a test and or a make-up it is noted on the state report but the child is not penalized.
On the Opt Out Facebook page there is a letter for parents who want to opt out of the testing. This letter was written by two lecturers from Baylor University, Kyle and Jennifer Massey, who have opted their children out of taking the test. As a matter of fact, through their lobbying efforts, the Waco School District has devised a Refusal to Test form that allows children to attend school on the day of the tests and be given meaningful work so that he or she is not counted as absent. Their children’s tests scores will be reported as “zero”. This is something that the Masseys are still working to change.
Currently most parents who want to opt out their child allow their child to stay home on the day of the test and the make-up days and take the unexcused absences. But, some on this Facebook page suggested scheduling an appointment on that day with the doctor or dentist or eye doctor and getting an excuse.
Did you know that you have an option to opt out? I didn’t, but it has started me wondering about the viability of doing just that both as protection for my children, particularly my 9 year old son, as well as a protest that says to the education community (mostly those in Austin) that I don’t support this type of testing for my children. What are the ramifications for students if we do opt out? What are the long lasting affects if we do? How will the scores be used down the academic road for our children?
On the other hand, how do we as parents tell our schools that we do not believe that these high stake tests are in the best interests of our children? (Today, and for the next two days, my childrens’ school is literally “shut down”–no parent volunteers, no art, no music, no PE, no visits to the library. This applies to all students whether or not they are taking the STAAR test.)
This morning Marc came downstairs with a book in his hand. He had just finished reading about the assassination of JFK–the actual act, the people involved and that period of time. I was caught off guard by his selection of reading and how much he absorbed from the 200+ page book. (Maybe the beginnings of a true interest in history?) While a vile and horrendous act, it has all of the elements that would capture the imagination of a 9 year old boy. At breakfast, Luke and Will, gathered around the book reading, looking at pictures, turning pages.
What test prep or test will blow on this spark of interest in history? What test prep or test will introduce these children to other worthwhile books? What test prep or test will talk to them about the time surrounding this period–the unrest, the great civil changes in our country, the other figures that were prominent during that time? What test prep or test will introduce them to the music that was so instrumental in capturing the turmoil of this era?
What test prep or test will stop and embrace this teachable moment?
No test prep or test will do this. But, teachers, who are attuned to their students’ interests and skills and who can and will further ignite a student’s passion for learning and critical thinking will challenge and inspire students like my son.
We don’t need more high stakes test prep or tests. We need teachers who have the time and ability to do exactly this.
I’d love to know what you think about this opt-out of testing movement. Would you consider opting out?