Today's Rocky Mountain News runs a Letter-to-the-Editor that I wrote about the CSAP test. Following the letter, below, are links to the newspaper articles that prompted my letter.
CSAP has become part of this whole 'No Child Left Behind' federal mandate that is creating problems for school districts and state governments through out the nation. Google 'No Child Left Behind' and you'll find a raft of articles and reports about lawsuits, inadequate funding, failing scores, etc.
I absolutely do not claim to be any kind of expert on 'No Child Left Behind' or the legislation that created CSAP testing in Colorado. But I have first hand experience from having a daughter now in sixth grade that has been subject to CSAP, and from serving two years as chair of our elementary school's Accountablilty Committee. I can tell you that CSAP has become a monster.
And, I'm not against testing. But I suspect most folks think the CSAP is much like the 'achievement tests' they took years ago when they were in grade school ... a one afternoon multiple choice assessment of very basic concepts.
That is NOT what CSAP has become!
Here's what my daughter's elementary school calendar has blocked out for CSAP testing this year: 3rd graders start testing during the second and third weeks in February. They resume testing, along with grades 4, 5, and 6, during the third week in March. They all get a week off for Spring Break, then begin again during the last week in March and the first two weeks of April. That's six weeks of federal and state mandated testing intruding itself into the learning routine of every public school child in Colorado.
These tests often are given three days of the school week, taking from an hour to an hour and a half. Because so much money is a stake, the pressure on the children to perform is enormous.
As you can see, CSAP has become a voracious monster that is sucking up weeks and weeks of 'learning' time. Furthermore, there always has to be 'improvement'. But we're talking about a game of statistics and diminishing returns as the numbers have to be calculated as an increase or decrease based on a multitude of unknowable and uncontrollable factors ... changes in the school population and demographics, changes in the ecomomy, changes in funding from the district, state and federal governments, changes in curriculm ordered by the school district or the state legislature.
Yet, as the Pomona High School articles linked to below show, a mere percentage point or two drop in scores is enough to require a task force to investigate what is wrong and to cause great concern. WHY? Because it is ALL ABOUT MONEY. The teachers care about education and their students, to be sure. But principals and adminstrators and the politicians care about FUNDING.
And that is the perversness of CSAP testing. The education bureaucrats aren't so much concerned about how individual students are learning, but about pleasing the elected officials that make appropriations for education. Of course, they'll agrue that you cannot adequately teach children without sufficient funds. I don't disagree. But CSAP has been contrived as a method to measure children like weighing cattle at a stockyard. The bureaucrats and politicians can now insulate themselves from tackling difficult and tough socio-economic and educational issues by saying their hands are tied by the 'statistical' evidence.
The politicians can also go to the voters and claim they are being rigorous and demanding about how tax dollars are spent. And, there it is -- CSAP is about money and politics. Actual education and learning are the secondary consideration.
So, last year we opted my daughter out of the CSAP. Instead of filling in little circles and writing little superficial essays for four weeks, we went to museums, the library, visited the Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, and continued real learning. Of course, her report cards were excellent. Her meaningful education is culmination of all the things she is taught by her very good teachers, reflected in the marks she has received on report cards over the years. You see, there already is a means of evaluating how are children are learning -- it's what teachers and educators have been doing since you were in school. The CSAP is yet another level of political contrivance that tries to make young people's knowledge a dispassionate numbers game.
Finally, I want to note that the Green Party has Ten Key Values that drive my opposition to CSAP and my commitemnt to honest education. I'd like to point out in particular the Green value of "Decentralization". This principle states, in part, that "Decision-making should, as much as possible, remain at the individual and local level, while assuring that civil rights are protected for all citizens." For me, CSAP is good example of how decisions that should be made by our local school boards have been seized by people who really have no business deciding what is best for us in Jefferson County.
If I am elected to Congress, I will work to completely reevaluate 'No Child Left Behind' and seek to find ways to adequately fund our schools, but keep decision-making local, where it belongs.
Here in Colorado, I encourage those interested in this issue to visit The Coalition for Better Education to learn more.
All Parents Should Opt Their Kids Out of CSAPs
Rocky Mountain News, November 8, 2005
The Oct. 29 Rocky Mountain News featured several articles about falling Colorado Student Assessment Program scores at Pomona High School ("The Pomona puzzle").
In response, the Jefferson County Public Schools sent in a task force of eight education bureaucrats to find out what is wrong.
There probably is nothing especially deficient with the education the students are receiving. Most pointedly, however, nowhere in the articles was there any question as to whether the problem may be the CSAP test itself.
If determining the quality of education at Pomona is the top concern, then the first obvious thing to do is examine actual report card grades.
The likelihood is that Pomona is still a fine school and that a mere percentage point or two change in CSAP scores is a mirage.
The real problem is that CSAP is a testing scheme contrived by politicians and is now mostly about acquiring funding, not improving learning.
When Pomona Principal Dan Cohan says that parents considering opting their student out of the CSAP should reconsider because ". . . you're hurting the wrong organization," he is dead wrong. The politicians and the education bureaucrats will not voluntarily change the system because of their complete submission to the powers that control the money.
These days individual families cannot compete effectively for a voice in government against the mega-dollar lobbying of special interests. The only recourse left to parents is their right to determine what is best for their own children. This high-stakes testing regime will have to be challenged from the grass roots up.
Parents everywhere in Colorado should exercise their right to opt their children out of CSAP until the heavy hand of the state and federal government in testing is gone.