STAAR season is upon us and the fact that Houston ISD is the most aggressive testing district in the state is in full view.
The Opt Out for Justice movement is growing in Houston. Two years ago there was one HISD parent who successfully opted their child out of STAAR, and last year that number grew to 80 students districtwide. Today, weeks ahead of this year’s first STAAR testing dates, we have hundreds of parents planning (with thousands considering) to use opt out to help win back our classrooms for teachers and students.
But Houston ISD officials are not interested in helping—not interested in respecting parental rights and now, as it appears, not even respecting their own school board’s policies and directives.
Remember that Houston ISD Board of Trustees specifically passed two policies this past year related to STAAR. The first was in November when the school board voted 7:1 to amend its local testing policy to include and entire section titled “Opt Out Implications.”
The second was in December when the school board unanimously approved suspending the use of STAAR as a promotion standard for any grade other than 5th and 8th—the only two grades state law requires.
But, just this week alone, our network of Opt Out for Justice parents saw no fewer than three communications from elementary principals communicating incorrect information about STAAR including two emails to parents explicitly intimidating them with the threat of illegal summer school.
The first example is HISD’s web page on Student Requirements and Promotion Standards indicating that passing STAAR is required in the 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th grades
— which is FALSE.
The second example is HISD’s “STAAR FAQs” sheet that is often sent to parents in printed form and is also on the district website. Again, this document states, “Passing STAAR is one of the HISD promotion requirements for students in grades 3 through 8”
— which is FALSE.
The third example is a page on HISD’s website with more STAAR FAQs where under the question “Can I ‘opt-out’ of STAAR assessments?”, The district’s answer completely ignores the new board policy that created a process for a parent to communicate intent to opt out as well as directed that no negative consequences to students result from that parental decision.
How can there be no way to opt out while the district has a policy explaining to parents how and what will happen if they do?
Finally, when misinformation is pervasive in an organization and when it’s combined with the high pressure that comes with keeping your job or getting your bonus based on just one test, this happens…
This example is just one of the examples received from this principal—others were more egregious but I have yet to receive permission to share.
Although this principal is unaware of the correct promotion standards for his/her students (this message went to an elementary parent of a student in a grade lower than 5th), amazingly s/he is aware of when STAAR results are expected back from the state late. With that knowledge s/he has taken it upon him/herself to tell all parents in that grade they should plan to have their children attend summer school until scores are returned at which time they may leave summer school if they passed or would have to stay if they did not. The number of errors in this statement are astonishing.
- STAAR isn’t a promotion standard for the 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th grades.
- If someone is being retained, a Grade Placement Committee (GPC) must be formed to determine whether summer school or some other intervention is required.
- Finally, since STAAR isn’t a promotion standard in these grades, no child failing the STAAR would be required to be retained, required to have a GPC or required to attend summer school much less be forced to stay after being sent there illegally in the first place.
Most principals are trying to do what is right for their students and usually go out of their way to collaborate with their campus parents. However, HISD is putting them in a poor position by
- not communicating the latest official policies and
- providing them incorrect support documents to share with parents. This leaves everyone confused.
Worse yet, in the hands of less supportive principals—those that are themselves intimidated by STAAR pressures—parents can be left scared and angry with valuable relationships key to student success destroyed.
SO I ASK:
Are three different district documents combined with principals “confused” about promotion standards and summer school policies a pattern that show intent to intimidate parents?
Or if not—if this is merely a mistake—does it show broad incompetence in district communications and the leadership over principals?
“The Office of the Chief Communications Officer exists to inform and engage stakeholders; support schools and departments; and build partnerships to increase transparency, support, and confidence in HISD.”
For this purpose the Communications Department has an annual budget of $2,241,716. One would think for that kind of money—which is not going into the classroom—stakeholders should expect web pages and parent flyers to be updated faster than four months after policy changes.
The Schools Office which is made up the management layers between principals and the superintendent—School Support Officers (SSOs) and Chief School Officers (CSOs) as they’re known—is focused on the accountability system and making sure that principals and teachers are data-driven. This office’s annual budget (made up almost exclusively of salaries) is $8,559,791.
Again, for these kind of management dollars spent outside the classroom, we should expect that policies as important as board testing rules (which are effectively law) are communicated quickly and effectively to the principals and teachers that make up the front lines of communication to parents and the execution of education in our schools.
In conclusion, I hope our trustees take note of these issues. We elect them to set these policies and to hire a superintendent that can execute them effectively. They should demand that this happen.
Furthermore, when parents and principals are told that the state is taking more of our district’s money (recapture) and that we must rob our principals of their campus and classroom budgets (PUA), let’s remember that in just two departments at the central office there is over $10,000,000 being spent outside the classroom—on PR and middle management. And as it relates to STAAR—the end all be all metric of success for this district, those dollars are either being completely wasted—or used for objectives not intended by the board.
WE DESERVE BETTER.
Let’s take back our schools and return them to great teachers and principals—the professionals who know and love our kids and are highly trained and skilled to educate our society’s future.
If we don’t have enough of them, let’s use our money to get more of them.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Until the district changes its priorities, you can rob them of the data they so desperately want in order to teacher-proof our classrooms. Rob them of the data that they use to justify closing neighborhood schools and giving more money to special students in special places. Rob them of participating in a discriminatory test for which the state pays billions to for-profit companies to administer with no evidence that they help improve schools.
We aren’t opting out because we’re against something—we’re opting out because we’re FOR justice in our education system.
Let’s get going.