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Data Command Force


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    HISD sets process for opting out of tests

    Ohanian Note: The key here is this parent's challenge: "We are not going away." But as it stands, Houston policy still favors data collection as means for determining kids' promotion and teacher evaluations.

    But maybe we should choose to look at this Houston move as seeing the glass half full. After all,Texas state law forbids opting out.

    Standardized testing is required in Texas public schools by the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or "STAAR," program set out in Texas Education Code chapter 39 and 19 Texas Administrative Code chapter 101.

    The Texas Observer offers more parent observations, and this strong statement indicates that parents understand the use of data as the key issue:

    People who aren't real familiar with the movement believe that we're parents who don't want our little snowflakes stressed out by this long hard test. Which is really untrue. The reason that I opted out, and the reason that we talk to parents about opting out, is what we feel is the improper use of the data.--Claudia de Leon, a mother of two Houston ISD students

    We don't feel like it's appropriate for teachers to be evaluated based on test scores that can largely be predicted by socioeconomic status. We believe it creates a lot of churn in the district, a lot of teacher turnover, which is bad for schools and bad for communities. That's what we're protesting. The use of our students' data in a way that we feel is damaging for our child and damaging for the entire district.

    By Ericka Mellon

    The Houston school district has pledged not to discipline students whose parents opt them out of state exams, but trustees stopped short of embracing the movement.

    The school board passed a policy Thursday night that formalizes the opt-out process but makes clear that Texas' largest district does not endorse exempting students from state-mandated exams. Under the policy, students who do not take the tests may have to attend summer school before being promoted to the next grade level.
    [emphasis added]

    Several dozen parents in the Houston Independent School District kept their children home on testing days last school year, leading to confusion over the rules and consequences.

    "The opt-out movement is growing," HISD mom Claudia de León-Geisler told the school board Thursday. "We are not going away, and we ask you to partner with us instead of dismissing and threatening us."

    HISD's new policy requires parents to fill out a district form or to submit a letter if they will not allow their children to take a state exam. Then, a committee that includes school staff and the parent will decide whether the student should be promoted to the next grade level or sent to summer school.

    The district's opt-out form does not indicate "an authorization for a test exemption request," the policy says, but adds that students "will not be subject to negative consequences or disciplinary action."

    The board chose not to add language that required HISD to provide students who opt out with classroom instruction while others take the tests, known as the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

    The state administers the exams in third through eighth grades, and older students also must pass five tests, with some exceptions, to graduate from high school. State law requires students in fifth and eighth grades to pass the exams in reading and math to be promoted automatically to the next grade, though a school committee can agree to advance a child.

    HISD goes further, basing automatic promotion decisions on the exams in third through eighth grade. The district also bases performance bonuses and teachers' job evaluations on the test scores, so too many absent students could affect the results.

    School board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones revealed that she may keep her own child home on testing days, but she said the public school district has to follow the law.

    "I as a parent am weighing the consequences of opting out myself," she said. "I do not expect the school district to break the law for me if I choose to do that out of my own personal beliefs and convictions."

    Instruction options

    Skillern-Jones, who voted against the policy, said she believed the district should provide instruction to the students whose parents opt them out, as schools would do if the child did not attend a field trip or a holiday party because of religious objections.

    According to the Texas Education Code, "A parent is not entitled to remove the parent's child from a class or other school activity to avoid a test or to prevent the child from taking a subject for an entire semester."

    Trustee Anna Eastman, who voted for the policy, said she supported parents' right to object to the testing but believed the exams can spur better instruction and drive higher expectations for students.

    "I believe every kid that walks into the door of our schools has a right to be able to sit and take one these tests and perform really well on it," she said.

    The board approved the policy on a 5-3 vote. Besides Skillern-Jones, trustees Juliet Stipeche and Wanda Adams opposed it. Trustee Mike Lunceford was absent.

    — Ericka Mellon with Ohanian comment
    Houston Chronicle
    November 14, 2015

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