Two Baylor professors take a stand against STAAR testing

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Two Baylor professors will be attempting to opt their fourth grade son at Waco Independent School District out of taking the standardized State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness [STAAR] test. Baylor faculty members Kyle and Jennifer Massey wrote a letter to their son’s principal that argues they have the legal right to keep their child from participating in what they perceive as a morally objectionable practice.

Last week the Masseys sent a letter to their son’s school outlining their stance, citing legislation and court cases. The letter draws from Texas Education Code Chapter 26, Sec A26.010, which states a parent may remove their child from school temporarily if an activity conflicts with the parent’s religious or moral beliefs, so long as they deliver a written statement to the child’s instructor.

“That seems fair and reasonable in a democratic society,” said Kyle Massey, lecturer in Civic Education & Community Services at Baylor and former public school teacher. “That you can direct your own child’s education. That’s what that law is supposed to be available for.”

The Masseys argue in their letter that they feel standardized testing inhibits a child’s ability to learn, causes them stress and drowns out important curriculum that would otherwise be taught if teachers were not having to focus on preparing students for the standardized test.

“We want our children to become critical and creative thinkers, not subservient test-takers,” the letter states.

Dale Caffey, director of communications and public information officer of Waco ISD, responded in an email to the Lariat on Tuesday for a statement from Waco ISD regarding the matter.

“As it turns out, we will not have a statement specifically addressing the Massey’s request or their social media campaign,” the email states. “What we are working on are general procedures for handling opt-out requests, although we are not expecting to receive additional ones.”

Last year the Masseys requested their son be given alternative curriculum to work on instead of testing during the days the STAAR test was being given but were denied the request. Kyle Massey said he and Jennifer Massey, assistant dean for student learning and engagement, had no choice but to instruct their child from home for the five days the tests and make-up tests were administered.

“I asked the principal last year; what if my son comes to school at 1 p.m.?” Kyle Massey said. “He won’t be able to take the test — right? The principal responded that the school would keep my son there ’til 5 p.m., but the school day ends at 3 p.m. How were they going to keep him there ’til 5 p.m.? The principal responded that the TEA allows the school to keep my son there ’til 5 p.m. But, I say I am the parent. School ends at 3 p.m., and he will be coming home then. Anything else would amount to kidnapping, in my opinion.”

Kyle Massey said if Waco ISD makes his son take the STAAR test should he come to school, the Masseys will take legal action against Waco ISD.

“We’re prepared to litigate,” he said. “We have nonprofit groups in Waco already offering their legal services if that transpires. We’re hoping, of course, that the school sees reason in recognizing our rights, and that those rights will be upheld.”

The Masseys posted their letter online Saturday, and the letter has received over 30,000 views. The letter has gotten the attention of the Dallas Morning News and KCEN television in Waco and has been shared thousands of times on social media sites.

Edy Chamness, Austin resident and member with special interest group Texas Parents Opt Out of State Testing, said she has kept her own son out of school on the days of STAAR testing for three years.

“I would never let my child think that one test is going to determine whether he’s going to move on to the next grade, because that’s simply false,” Chamness said. “This is a deeply rooted fear for children. They’re really terrified that everybody’s going to know they’re a failure. They’re going to flunk the test, flunk the grade, and all their friends are going to move on and everyone will know it. This is not an irrational fear, because children are told frequently these stories, and that’s very scary for an eight year old child.”

Chamness said she feels teachers should not be held accountable for students not performing well on state standardized tests.

“It’s foolish to believe you can take student test results and turn around and hold teachers accountable,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Kyle Massey said he opposes the idea of taking his children to private school or home schooling them simply to avoid the STAAR tests.

“That’s saying you have to be excluded from public education in order to stay true to your convictions,” he said. “That’s not right. That’s not an option at all.”

Kyle Massey said he has had positive response from the community to his family’s actions.

“We’ve had teachers email us and ask to remain anonymous,” hew said. “They say they work for Waco ISD and are 100 percent behind us, saying what we’re doing is good for public education.”