HOUSTON - Students all across Texas started taking their STAAR tests on Tuesday. The exams going on this week focus on math, reading and writing. The test results can be incredibly important and teachers spend months getting their students ready.
However, a lot of parents are not happy about the high stakes testing and they want to opt their kids out. But can you really do that? KHOU 11 took a closer look at the issue to get parents some answers.
HISD clearly says the STAAR is mandatory but, the District's response to KHOU 11’s queries about it is different this year than last. They're spelling out more clearly what the consequences and alternatives are, as the number of local families skipping the test grows from roughly 80 to as many as 500.
Thirty of those kids had an alternative learning day Tuesday that organizers are calling the Opt-Out Academy.
"Oh no it's a monster, it's going to kill me!" one student said during acting time at the Opt-Out Academy in the Heights.
While she and her classmates were are just taking turns practicing drama skills with the line: "It's a monster, it's going to kill me!"
It could sum up how their parents feel about the state-mandated STAAR test, and its effect on their children's education.
"I wake up in the middle of the night thinking my child has now lost two full years of science and social studies and history and PE," said opt-out parent Alicia Verdier.
Verdier is part of a group estimated at as many as 500 local families, choosing to opt their children out of the STAAR because they think the stakes are too high, and it forces teachers to only focus on the test.
"They just teach you what you're definitely going to need," said Slone Davis, a 4th Grader at Wharton Dual Language Academy.
Sarah Rivlin says she knows that first-hand. She left her teaching job with HISD because she felt the STAAR was hurting the kids.
"I actually was reprimanded at one point because my students were reading books,” said Rivlin. “They weren't supposed to be reading books. They were supposed to be reading testing passages."
STAAR results are tied to teacher evaluations and help determine if a child moves on to the next grade. But there HISD seems to be growing a bit more lenient. The board passed a new policy in January forbidding students be punished in any way for not taking the STAAR.
Students who don't pass the test can go through a grade-placement committee to determine if their attendance and other academics qualify them to move on, helping take the fear of the “monster” out of the test.
HISD released the following statement on Tuesday:
“State assessments are mandatory for all students enrolled in Texas public schools. However, as per Section 26.010 of the Texas Educational Code, parents may temporarily delay instruction for their child if a class or activity conflicts with their religious or moral beliefs. The HISD Board of Education approved a new policy in January that forbids students to be punished by teachers or campus administration in any way for not taking the STAAR test. The STAAR test does not impact students’ grades and the results shouldn’t be used as a major test grade.”