HISD parents opt students out of STAAR test, but district says 'no parental opt-out'

Lileana Pearson Image
Wednesday, October 25, 2023
HISD parents opt students out of standardized tests
Parents are worried about the pressure on their students as STAAR results impact campus and districts' letter grade.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Since the Texas Education Agency took over HISD, some parents say there's more focus than ever on test performance and not on actually learning.

STAAR is the end-of-year exam given to students in third through 12th grade; it covers math, reading, science, and social studies. The TEA told ABC13 it's mandatory, but some parents say they have and will continue to opt out.

Eyewitness News spoke with HISD parents, who said the new administration has made STAAR test results the focus this school year.

"I've seen the joy of learning beat out of my students by the time they get to me," HISD parent Anita Wadhwa said. "If there is one small thing I can do to resist all the things that are happening and oppressive to students and teachers, then I'm going to do it."

Wadhwa feels STAAR isn't a good way to determine a student's ability to learn or a teacher's ability to teach. She opted out while the district wasn't under TEA control but said with more pressure than ever on testing, her kids won't be taking it this year either.

"This has not made learning more accessible or improved reading. In my opinion, the test has just revealed a hierarchy of who can do well on a test and who can't," Wadhwa said.

Despite parents saying they have opted out, the TEA shared the following statement:

"There is no parental opt-out for STAAR assessments. Federal and state laws require that all eligible students participate in STAAR. While state law provides families with the right to temporarily remove their child from a class or school activity if they have an objection to participation, the law does not allow families the right to specifically exclude a child from testing.

STAAR assessments continue to be a valuable tool in evaluating how students are performing in Texas classrooms. The STAAR report card provides parents with understandable information that helps them support their children in class and at home. STAAR results can help parents know how well their child learned this year's academic material and whether their child is on track for success in future grades and after graduation."

Eyewitness News followed up with the TEA and asked why parents were saying they had been opting their kids out, but it has not responded.

Duncan Klussmann, a professor with the University of Houston's education department, said it seems odd that school choice and private school vouchers would be pushed so hard in Texas only to have the TEA turn around and say this is not a choice.

"It just seems counterproductive to say, 'Maybe we're not going to allow parents and public school to opt out of the test, but we're going to give $8,000 to a private school that's not required to give the test,'" Klussmann said.

According to Community Voices for Public Education, a public education advocacy group, students do not have to take or pass a STAAR exam to move to the next grade. However, high school students who wish to opt-out will need to follow a list of several exceptions to graduate, such as a sufficient score on a substitute assessment.

The Texas Parents' Education Rights Network even provides sample letters parents can send to their schools to opt out of testing.

STAAR results do impact campus and districts' overall letter grades. HISD mom Karina Quesada said she doesn't want her student's results potentially negatively affecting another school that has less.

"We're deciding if school districts get taken over, if school shut down, based on children, on children's scores. That's a lot of pressure to put on little kids," Quesada said.

Eyewitness News did reach out to HISD to learn how opting out will impact the district, but at this time, we have not heard back.

For more news updates, follow Lileana Pearson on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.