A Waco couple is not allowing their 9-year-old son to take the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness because of a moral and ethical opposition to standardized testing.

Kyle Massey and Jennifer Massey, parents of a Hillcrest Elementary School fourth-grader, submitted a letter to Principal Lisa Cain asserting their right to keep their son from taking the STAAR, and from participating in test-taking training exercises.

“We want our children to become critical and creative thinkers, not subservient test-takers,” the letter states. “Public education in this country has been a victim of 30 years’ worth of neoliberal hegemonic attacks in the form of political and economic policies.”

Kyle Massey is the coordinator of curriculum for Texas State Technical College and a part-time lecturer at Baylor University in the civic education and community services department. Jennifer Massey is Baylor’s assistant dean for student learning and engagement.

The couple cites Chapter 26 of the Texas Education Code outlining parental rights to keep their children from participating in activities that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs as reasoning for Waco Independent School District to excuse their children.

The letter goes on to outline how the Masseys believe the STAAR negatively affects socio-emotional well-being, curiosity, higher-order thinking and other aspects of education.

WISD Spokesman Dale Caffey said the district follows rules outlined by the state legislature and the Texas Education Agency. The STAAR is a state-mandated test, and the district does not have the authority to excuse a student from taking it, he said.

Per TEA instructions, if a student attends school on testing day, his or her test will be scored even if the student does not answer any of the questions under TEA rules, Caffey said.

Public schools are given accountability ratings by the state based on students’ test scores. When students perform poorly on the test, consequences can range from having to implement improvement plans to closing or privatizing the school.

Additionally, the test would be on the student’s record, and could affect his or her academic standing, Caffey said.

Opt-out plan

In response to the Masseys’ request, WISD made a plan for parents who want to opt their students out. The plan placed the responsibility on students to tell their teachers of their refusal to take the test, after which they would be directed to a non-testing room and given “meaningful activities” to complete.

The Masseys then alleged bullying by the district, calling the procedure “dismissive of our rights as parents to opt our children out of harmful school activities” because it leaves the option to take the test up to the student.

“We already told them what our wishes are,” Kyle Massey said in an interview. “Why would (the district) put a child in a situation where they have to be the ones to refuse. It’s just absurd.”

In response to the Masseys’ complaints, WISD came up with a “refusal to test” form that parents can sign, ensuring their children will not be offered the test. But the district reiterated that it does not have the authority to excuse students from the test, and the tests of students in attendance would be scored whether or not they were taken, per TEA rules.

WISD forwarded the Masseys’ letter to the TEA, which is in charge of statewide assessments and accountability. The Masseys had not received a response from the TEA as of Friday evening.

Kyle Massey told another media outlet that he is opposed to seeking private- or home-schooling for his son just to avoid taking the STAAR.

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