I teach social studies in Cheyenne Mountain School District in Colorado Springs. A supporter of the state standards from their inception, I once believed that the state standards tests (Colorado Student Assessment Program) would cause all schools to develop a scope and sequence in every subject and challenge communities to be accountable in every subject area. I was especially concerned that history, geography, civics and economics needed such an emphasis since the attention they received at the elementary level was often insufficient. I remain impressed by the standards in these subjects and continue to teach them with conviction.
My daughter is now a 5th grader in Cheyenne Mountain School District. She has scored advanced or proficient on the four CSAPs that she has taken this year and last year. My district could probably financially gain from the grading scale developed by the new "education reform law" (Senate Bill 186) calling for grading, since many of its schools scored among the top in the state and it has the opportunity to be an "A" school district.
However, I can no longer in conscience support the CSAPs. I am more skeptical of those schools scoring high on the tests than I am concerned about those scoring low.
Following the lead of another concerned parent in our daughter's school, my wife and I will not allow our daughter to continue taking the CSAP. We do this knowing that our district will be penalized with a zero for her testing absence. We are committed to this because the CSAP is detrimental to her comprehensive education and because schools are unfairly being destroyed in the process. I will continue to teach all the standards in my subject area. My job requires that I administer the CSAPs when asked, but I will let my peers know that I believe the current process of "educational reform" is destructive, for the following reasons:
If the state truly wanted reform, schools would not know the subject tests they are to take, nor would they give every school class at every grade level the same tests. At present, students take one or two tests a year in either math, reading or writing. The result of this has caused subjects like history, geography, civics, economics and even science to receive even less attention. In addition, schools and districts that teach a more rounded curriculum will score lower than those that spend an inordinate amount of time on one or two tested subjects.
Elementary teachers have been forced to all but abandon "hands on" or unit methods of instruction in favor of test preparation and drill. They hardly have time for enrichment instruction, including field trips and interactive exercises.
The governor's reform plan creates central control of public schools and threatens to fail schools if students don't pass the CSAPs, yet allows private schools and home schools to ignore these tests. All that the state requires a home school child to do to pass at the elementary levels is to score in the 13th percentile on a standardized test of their choice. The governor's reform prescription is no more than a plan to destroy the public school system and create a decentralized voucher system down the road.
If the parents of a school district do not care enough to cause change in their schools, then the state need not do it for them. To this point, the only "buy-in" for state testing seems to come from politicians who are using their excessive skills at pandering to accumulate power for themselves and from those with agendas to use public money to finance private schools. Instead, parents and educators should be looking at the results of various tests and then determining if their own schools are doing a good job.
Tests can be thrown out and students given a zero if students incorrectly fail to "bubble-in" their names and the lines of bureaucratic information about race, language, years in district, etc., or if they miss a portion of the test. The state also gives students who are absent a zero.
The students are not even held accountable for their scores. Only the school fails. Angry students seeking to harm their school have only to flunk their CSAP tests to get it closed. If the CSAPs are so important, shouldn't the students be held accountable for what they know?
Good teachers who dedicated themselves to helping students at inner city schools are now being publicly insulted and told they are failures. Is this going to bring good teachers to poor schools?
The CSAP tests may provide good standards for students planning to go to college, but many question if they're too extensive for other students.
I plan on being among those marching to the Capitol on April 30 to voice my concerns. I believe that teachers and parents who have the least to lose from the grading and closing of schools must be the first to both speak out and to boycott a testing system which is not only illogical, but which has a political agenda as dangerous as this one does.