Skip the STAAR? A closer look at standardized testing

Skip the STAAR? A closer look at opting out of standardized testing in Texas

Last November, I wrote a parents’ guide to the STAAR test and posed this question:

You can opt out of STAAR testing: True or False?

The short answer is still false, but as STAAR testing season approaches, let’s have a closer look. Why? What are the alternatives?

If you are reading this post, then you are probably the parent of one or more children attending grade 3 or higher in a Texas public school. Your child’s school has probably sent home information about testing dates. Maybe your children have already taken benchmark tests, or attended a school assembly to get hyped up about testing. I hope this is not the case, but maybe your children are feeling anxious about STAAR tests or end-of-course exams. You may be wondering if you can just skip the whole thing…what would happen then?

The consensus among leaders of Texas public schools is that parents have no legal right to opt out of standardized testing. For example, the Texas Association of School Boards has prepared a memo, “Opting Out of Standardized Tests,” which explains the legal requirements of standardized testing.

On the other hand, the parent-activitsts of the opt-out movement assert that parents do have the right to opt out of standardized testing. Activists in Texas have published a how-to guide for parents.

Let’s look in more detail at the legal requirements for standardized testing and compare those to the recommendations of the opt-out movement. Then, if you feel that standardized testing is an insurmountable obstacle for your children, let’s look at some alternative strategies for getting your children a quality education. Along the way, keep in mind that while I am an attorney, I am not your attorney, and this blog post is not meant as legal advice.

The Texas Education Code, section 26.010(a), states:

A parent is not entitled to remove the parent’s child from a class or other school activity to avoid a test or to prevent the child from taking a subject for an entire semester.

It appears to me that parents are required to send their kids to school on testing days. Blogger Kyle D. Massey reads that section differently; have a look for yourself.

But, what if you do keep your children home on testing days? Opt-out activist Edy Chamness has done that; she also maintains a Facebook page about opting out of standardized testing.

The challenge is that your children may have to miss a lot of school to avoid all the STAAR testing days and make-up days. If your children miss too much school, they risk truancy or may not get class credit. Read more in sections 25.092 to 25.094 of the Texas Education Code.

What if your children go to school on testing days, but don’t take the STAAR test? The school district still has to turn in a booklet for every student, so does the school district just turn in a blank booklet? Where do your children go while other students are taking standardized tests? Different school districts may develop their own policies on how to handle these situations: Waco ISD provided activities for students who opted out of testing; Round Rock ISD counted the opt-out students as absent.

What if you withdraw your children from public school now, wait for STAAR testing season to be over, and then re-enroll your kids in public school? I’m not aware of anything the school district can do to prevent that. Basically, you commit to becoming a homeschooler for a month or so. How do you withdraw your children from public school? The Texas Home School Coalition has a guide (including a sample withdrawal letter), and the Home School Legal Defense Association has a Texas portal. Note: if you try to pull this move at a charter school, you might find yourself at the bottom of the waiting list when you try to re-enroll.

If your children opt out of STAAR testing, will that affect their promotion to the next grade? Generally, no, but passing the reading and math STAAR tests is a requirement for students in 5th grade and 8th grade to advance to the next grade. However, a student can still advance to the next grade if he or she completes the required “accelerated instruction” (i.e., tutoring) and the school’s grade placement committee unanimously agrees that the student is likely to perform at grade level the next year. See Texas Administrative Code section 101.2001(b).

If your children opt out of end-of-course exams, can they still graduate from high school? Passing five end-of-course exams is a graduation requirement; however, school districts can issue certificates of coursework completion, Texas Education Code section 28.025(d), and sometimes other tests (such as AP exams or SAT subject tests) can serve as end-of-course assessments, Texas Education Code section 39.025(a-1). The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill, SB 149, which would create panels with power to allow some students to graduate without passing end-of-course exams; read more at the Texas Tribune.

One more thing to consider: If lots of students choose to opt out of standardized testing, it will hurt their school’s participation rate and passing rate, which could lead to low accountability ratings. A history of low accountability ratings could lead to the closure of a school; the consequences are especially swift and severe for charter schools.

If you still feel that standardized testing is an insurmountable obstacle for your children, then it’s time to look at alternatives.

  • Students at private schools do not take STAAR tests or end-of-course exams. As part of ACMB’s Perspectives in Parenting series, Katy offered her reasons for choosing private school.
  • Homeschoolers do not take STAAR tests or end-of-course exams, either. As part of the same Perspectives in Parenting series, Denise shared her experiences with homeschooling.
  • Charter schools are public schools and must administer STAAR tests and end-of-course exams. However, charter schools have more flexibility when it comes to hiring and curriculum, and some charter schools have used that freedom to offer rigorous education without teaching to the test. I found a school like that for my children, as I discussed in my post about charter schools for ACMB’s Perspectives in Parenting series.

After all this discussion about strategies for avoiding the STAAR and end-of-course exams, you might be surprised to learn that I actually believe that a system of standardized testing is necessary for improving the quality of public education in Texas. Policy makers, community leaders, and parents need an objective way to look at different campuses and see what’s going on within them.

The current system, however, has problems. Why is standardized testing so stressful for classroom teachers and students? State law requires public schools to administer the STAAR tests; the law does not require public schools to scare the crap out of their students, nor does it require schools to teach to the test. We need a system of standardized testing that produces useful data without overly burdening our students.

For any of a number of valid reasons—such as for athletics and extracurricular activities, stability, continuing friendships, or simply supporting your neighborhood school—you may choose to keep your children enrolled at a school that, unfortunately, places a heavy emphasis on standardized testing. There are still steps you can take to advocate for your children and your community.

You and your friends can research how your school handles standardized testing. How much time is being spent on benchmark testing? State law limits the amount of benchmark testing; see Texas Education Code sections 39.0262 and 39.0263. How do teachers and school leaders talk to students about testing? If you are unhappy with how much time your children’s school spends preparing for standardized tests, then band together with other parents and speak up.

Also, local elections are coming up soon, on May 9, 2015. Your district’s school board may be holding an election. Learn more by visiting your district’s website; find a directory of Bexar County school district websites at Go Public. More election information is available at Bexar County Elections and the Secretary of State’s Vote Texas site. This election is an opportunity to get to know the candidates and share your opinions about standardized testing.

And, the Texas Legislature is currently in session. Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) is campaigning for changes to the current system of standardized testing.

STAAR testing dates for 2014-15 | Alamo City Moms Blog

Changing the law can take time. In the meantime, you are the best advocate for your child. From a mom who’s been there, here are some tips to help you be effective and assertive:

  • Speak up for your children.
  • Trust your judgment.
  • Be reasonable and calm.
  • Put it in writing.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Don’t be afraid of being labelled a “troublemaker.”

We all want our children to grow up to be happy and independent. A good parenting principle to remember is that there are lots of ways to get from point A to point B. Denise’s recent post about Different Learners is an excellent reminder of that principle. Even if standardized testing seems to stand in the way, have faith that you will find a way to help your children succeed.

Inga Cotton
Inga is passionate about parent-driven education: helping parents be the best advocates for their children, finding the right schools (or homeschooling resources), and enjoying San Antonio's variety of arts and cultural events for families. She was born in California but has called Texas home since high school. She works part time as a lawyer and also blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms. Her eight-year-old son, F.T., and five-year-old daughter, G.N., attend a public charter school in the heart of the city. She married a techie and is a bit of a geek herself.


  1. Question: I made a mistake of letting my son take the 5th grade STAAR test. Even though he has all As and Bs for the year, he’s a poor test taker with anxiety and ended up failing the tests. Now he’s being required to go to summer school and facing retention. There’s a week left of school. If I withdraw him to homeschool, give him my own EOY exam, pronounce him promoted, and then ‘re-enroll in the Fall, will the failed STAAR tests still be in effect?

  2. I am not against standardized tests but I’m totally opposed to “teaching to the test” and to making such a hug deal out of the test as if it’s that it’s all that matters. My kids have always understood that the tests they will take are just a small fraction of what they need to do in school and they are not the make or break predictor of success. My job as a parent is to counteract and minimize the stress that the schools create over these tests. I wouldn’t keep them home on test days because we all have to do things in life that we don’t like sometimes and you can’t just skip out.

  3. Thanks for the informative post, Inga! Yikes, I feel like I have so much to learn before my kids hit grade school! I loved taking tests (not because I performed particularly well on them) and I don’t remember being all that stressed about them as a student (and we took at least one standardized test each year, if I recall correctly). Everything now seems so much more intense!

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