CSAPs Have Not Worked – The Denver Post

State lawmakers, especially Republicans who usually champion educational choice, have come down in favor of government mandates and against parental choice by defeating House Bill 1289, which would have removed the penalty assessed against schools for students who don’t take CSAP tests.

Many families are finding that millions of dollars in school funding have been redirected to high-stakes tests and preparation material and into the pockets of McGraw Hill, publishers of CSAP. Since 2000 and the passage of Senate Bill 186, school class sizes have grown larger, recess has grown shorter, librarians have been replaced with data analysts, test-prep tutorials have been substituted for after-school programs, and meaningful learning has been forfeited for measurable learning.

 The failed promise of the CSAP and school ratings has not fixed our schools, unless you are of the sort that feels a closed public school is a “fixed” public school. Manual High School, Baker and Gove middle schools, and Rosedale Elementary, which once served predominantly minority and low-income children, have had to send away their students, in large part because of low standardized test scores.

Defenders of high-stakes testing and those intent on using test scores as the sole measure of school success claim that race and poverty should not be excuses for poor test performance on the CSAP. Ignoring the realities of urban life and inadequately funded schools has become a poor excuse for state policymakers to do less and less for our schools and our children.

With two children who will eventually be withheld from the CSAP, I understand that there is no greater form of accountability than a democracy. Under current statute, opting our children out of this illegitimate form of teacher control and school regulation means sacrificing our schools. For many parents, it’s not really a choice – and yet for the majority of schools in Colorado, it’s only a matter of time before NCLB and Colorado lawmakers shut down our schools and turn our children and our tax dollars over to the free market.

CSAP tests should be used to measure students, not schools. Schools are as complex and diverse as the communities they serve. There is no paper-and-pencil test that is able to accurately reflect the quality of a school. Twelve years ago, when I started teaching in Castle Rock, my students’ test scores were high. Five years later, I transferred to The Denver Street School, a poorly funded school serving poor children, with – you guessed it – poor test scores. It wasn’t that these children were any less intelligent; they just had fewer opportunities than their privileged counterparts.

I was a better teacher than I had been five years earlier; I had more experience, more
education and more confidence. Under our current system of accountability, I was a valued teacher in Castle Rock – an “excellent” rated school. But teaching in central Denver meant I could be judged as incompetent and my school deemed failing.

On Wednesday, Colorado lawmakers killed the bill that would have ensured accurate test data and honored a parent’s decision. The majority of Republican legislators and three Democrats seem intent on grading schools based on students who don’t even take the test; so much for valid and accurate data. Parents are blackmailed into complying with this misdirected form of accountability even if CSAP offers nothing to our children or their future. Parents are growing increasingly tired of their children being used as pawns of the state and our neighborhood school used as the political battlefield.

Vouchers, open-enrollment, charter schools, and expanded home-schooling options have been promoted on the principle of choice. Now, many Republican legislators are talking out of the other side of their mouths and defending government interference, heavy-handed bureaucratic regulations and denying parents their personal choice regarding their child’s education and evaluation.

Whatever your political affiliation, there is no denying that the results of the CSAP have proven little return on an enormous investment. It’s time now to invoke educational policies that create real success rather than the oversimplified approach that tells us simply which students are failing the multiple-choice and short-answer CSAP questions. Opportunity is the greatest indicator of achievement. A real commitment to improving education requires a legitimate attempt to provide small classrooms, after- school programs, counselors, mentoring, nutritious lunches, individualized instruction, secure and supportive campuses, challenging and engaging academic experiences and purposeful learning.

Instead of continuing to conform to an accountability scheme that “tells us whether or not our children are receiving the education they deserve,” how about giving our children the education they deserve?

Angela Engel has taught elementary and high school in both inner-city and suburban schools for a decade. She has worked as a teacher mentor, staff-development trainer and parent trainer. — Angela Engel

Originally published in The Denver Post on April 1, 2006.