Texas parents opt out of testing


Hunter Miller

Parents have the option to prevent their kids from taking STAAR tests.

Savannah Whitmer, Lead Reporter

For most students, STAAR tests seem unavoidable. But as state testing makes its usual end-of-year appearance, some Texas parents are refusing to let their kids participate. The new wave of resistance to “high stakes” testing is becoming more common among concerned parents, who refer to it as “opting out.”

According to Texas Education Code 26, parents have the right to opt their students out of STAAR tests, and the recent increase in refusal can be attributed to a number of reasons.

“Standardized assessments are too narrow in focus to present an accurate portrayal of individual success or failure for students, teachers, and individual school communities,” United Opt Out National administrator Ceresta Smith said. “Also, it is questionable as to if they really can capture a student’s ability to read well, write well, or perform math computation.”

Parents in favor of opting out argue that high-stakes testing is not only destructive to students, but has a large impact on general education, from compromising financial resources (Texas spends $9 million a year on testing), to increasing demographic or racial inequalities and restricting some teaching methods.

Dissatisfaction also stems from the lack of access to test material and the exclusion of fine art subjects.

“Teachers test and assess their students every single day,” parent Cathy Marciniak said. “They always have. If parents have questions about their child’s education, which do you think would be the more reliable and accessible source of information, the teacher who spends six hours per day, 180 days per school year working with their child, or a scantron test, the results of which will not be available under 3 weeks after the end of the term?”

The formations of organizations such as United Opt Out National, Change the Stakes, and FairTest work to spread knowledge of opting out via conferences and social media. These organizations often provide pre-written letters that parents can send to their student’s principal. A letter by Waco parents sent in March and posted on social media platforms to excuse their 4th grade student from testing has circulated on social media and news networks, receiving much recognition from opt-out organizations.

“High-stakes standardized testing actually limits and reduces the amount of quality learning experiences,” Kyle and Jennifer Massey wrote in their letter to their child’s principal. “Rather than focusing on a child’s natural curiosity, testing emphasizes (and drills in) isolated facts limiting teacher’s ability to create environments that stimulate a child’s imagination.”

While it may seem ineffective to opt out when test preparation will continue in the classroom, according to at least one organization, state scores would be considered invalid if at least 6 percent of students are absent from testing. As the leading reason for standardized testing is to evaluate school progress, this could be damaging for STAAR and its advocates.

“It’s probably true that the time spent on testing isn’t going to be particularly beneficial to the kids, but it’s very beneficial to the system,” executive vice president of the Fordham Institute Michael Petrilli said to NPR in March. “If you have enough people opt out of these tests, then you have removed some important information that could make our schools better.”

But proponents of opting out believe that in addition to removing undue stress from the students, eliminating standardized testing and relying on regular teacher evaluation would improve schools long-term more than state information would.

“On a collective level it sends a message to legislators that policies that sanction an over-emphasis on testing is not amenable to all stakeholders,” Smith said. “And eventually, there will have to be a serious discussion on what is quality pedagogy and where standardized assessments will fit into that in a meaningful and less destructive way.”

Supporters of opting out cite various alternatives to STAAR, including tests like PISA and NAEP, or assessment based on randomly selected samples of students and used to inform teachers of classroom needs.

“Teacher observations are going to be far more accurate than this test,” parent Susan Wolfer said. “Teachers do reading evaluations one-on-one with students to check for reading levels and comprehension. Students write daily in journals that will show growth in their writing skills. As a former teacher myself, I feel that the portfolio of student work is a much more accurate tool for evaluating true learning.”

Resistance to STAAR and other similar standardized tests is likely to continue until outspoken parents, educators, and students feel that adequate measures are taken to improve state assessments.

“As parents, we are responsible to make sure our children get the best education possible,” parent Tamara Jewell said. “These tests are hindering that progress and opting out is one way to make our voices heard.”