Parents claim victory as Waco ISD allows opt-out option for STAAR test

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Two Baylor faculty members have been battling authorities in order to opt their fourth grade child out of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or ‘STAAR,’ standardized test. As of Friday, Kyle and Jennifer Massey have claimed victory.

“In Waco specifically, our major battle was for our rights as parents to be upheld in the sense of having the option of opting out of the STAAR test,” said Kyle Massey, lecturer in civic education and community services at Baylor and former public school teacher.

The victory is a refusal-to-test form for parents to sign that Waco Independent School District has created in response to the Masseys’ lobbying.

In the past, the Masseys’ son was kept home on testing days in order to abstain from taking the STAAR test. The new refusal-to-test form will be signed by the parents and allow the Masseys’ son to attend school during testing days and receive “meaningful activities” to complete instead.

The Masseys hosted a press conference and open discussion Saturday at their home in Waco.

“This last week of pressure that the media and social media have helped us to provide in terms of sharing our story has really helped put pressure on Waco ISD,” Mr. Massey said. “The school has finally come to the realization that we are allowed to do this, and we can refuse the test, and our children do not have to be subjected to these things against our will.”

The Masseys said they are morally opposed to the effects they believe standardized testing has on children, and believe parents have the right to keep their child from participating in something that violates their morals.

“No matter what you think about standardized testing, parents should still have the fundamental right of opting their children out of things that are happening in schools that are against their own personal moral and ethical beliefs,” Mr. Massey said. “That has been our point. We want to continue this fight and change the system as a whole eventually. For right now, though, we are happy with what we can do in Waco ISD. And hopefully that’s going to spread to any other school district in Texas now that it’s a precedent.”

Waco ISD cannot grant an official exemption legally, school officials said in their written response to the Masseys on Friday. The test of a child opting out must be marked as “scored,” even though he will not be taking the test. This is policy controlled by the Texas Education Agency, school officials said, and out of Waco ISD’s hands. The Masseys said their son’s grade on the STAAR test will be automatically marked as a score of zero. But, Dr. Jennifer Massey said, these STAAR test grades do not affect his final grades in his classes. The Masseys plan to write a letter to the TEA requesting a change in policy to where tests can have a “no score” option, Mr. Massey said, simply on the basis of principle.

“In many respects, Waco ISD has been pretty courageous in following this policy and new approach,” said Dr. Massey, assistant dean for student learning and engagement at Baylor. “It took public pressure, but now at the end of the day we have a precedent in Texas that allows parents to hold more rights to opt out of STAAR testing.”

Catherine Wadbrook, certified teacher from Austin and co-administrator of the special interest group Texas Parents Opt Out of State Testing, attended the press conference and discussion at the Masseys’ home in Waco. Wadbrook said she is opposed to her child having to stay home during designated test make-up days. Were her son to attend school during make-up days if he stayed home on original testing days, he would be made to take the STAAR test while his classmates receive normal instruction.

“His school district wants to tell me that as soon as he steps foot on the property, they’ll make him take the test,” Wadbrook said. “And I’m saying no to that. We’ll see what happens on Thursday when there is testing. Because I am going to take him to school, and I have indicated that I would like him to go participate in instruction. And if they arrest me for trespassing or send me away, then we have the next step in our fights. I think Waco ISD understands that isn’t an option for schools.”

The Masseys said they believe their situation will stand as an example for other districts. Numerous parents are now asking the Masseys how to opt their own children out of STAAR testing, Jennifer Massey said, including parents from Waco ISD, China Spring Independent School District and Midway Independent School District, who requested a refusal letter format from the Masseys to send to their own children’s schools.

“It almost certainly will be done in other schools now that it has been done somewhere in Texas,” Dr. Massey said. “They’re going to have to follow suit.”

People have been surprised to learn they can keep their children out of standardized testing, Dr. Massey said.

Wadbrook said she feels parents should not worry about anything negative happening to them or their child should they try to opt out of STAAR testing.

“We’re here,” she said, addressing parents who would want to opt their child out of the STAAR test. “If you try and opt out and a school attempts to do something punitive to you, and especially to your child, woe be to them.”