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CSAP Results Skewed as Kids Opt Out

The number of Poudre School District students refusing to take the state's annual assessment test increased by more than 64 percent in 2004, a factor officials say could have played a role in several score declines.

But at least one parent said the blame for the slip in scores lies with the way scores are averaged, not with students who opted not to take the exams.

Of the approximately 15,100 students eligible to participate in the 2004 Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, 196 refused to take the exams, up from 119 last year. The number of PSD 10th-grade students who opted out of the tests nearly tripled -- from 13 in 2003 to 33 this year.

Under Colorado law, students can decline to take the tests with parent permission.

But each student who doesn't take the test hurts school and district scores, said Jed Bowman, PSD director of student achievement data and assessment.

One example officials are reviewing is the 10th-grade reading, writing and math scores, which declined this year as the number of students opting out of the test grew.

The decline in the number of 10th-grade students scoring proficient or advanced on the exams averaged one to five percentage points.

When students don't take the test, teachers can't accurately gauge their learning and in turn struggle to figure out what areas of the state-mandated curriculum standards students might not be grasping, Bowman said.

"That's hurting our schools," he said. "It's a travesty for parents to refuse."

Equally painful is the loss of high-scoring students, he said. A review of those who opted not to take the test found that approximately half of the 196 students who declined to take the test scored in the proficient or advanced categories in 2003.

Those students likely would have done as well in 2004, and those scores would have benefited the district's overall scores, Bowman said.

That assumption would mean the other half of students would have scored in the partially proficient or unsatisfactory categories, said Fort Collins parent David Haile. When combined, those two halves would have had minimal impact on schoolwide and districtwide scores, he said.

But the increase in students not taking CSAP tests hurts education, Bowman said.

For every student who doesn't take the test, a school is penalized on its School Accountability Report, Bowman said. And no score for a student is the equivalent of an unsatisfactory score on the reports.

The annual reports grade schools based largely on CSAP scores. Included in the final grade are students who don't take the test. Schools that score in the unsatisfactory category for three years in a row face being taken over by the state and turned into a charter school.

Gov. Bill Owens announced earlier this week that Denver's Cole Middle School will be the first school to face that consequence after the school failed to score well on the CSAP tests this year.

The real travesty is allowing a student to choose not to take a test and then penalizing the school for it, said Haile, whose son opted out of the 2004 CSAPs.

"If a kid who opts out of testing is scored a zero and the zero is averaged into the CSAP results for his school, that is a misuse of statistics," Haile said. "I support PSD schools and think they are doing a fine job across the board. They would be more efficient if they spent less time running the CSAP tests and more time teaching."

When asked what might have contributed to the increase in the number of students who didn't take the tests, Bowman cited a series of articles that appeared in the Coloradoan prior to the test. The series included stories on how the CSAP exam is used and why some parents allow their children to opt not to take it.

"You don't get three times more students (refusing) without something spurring it," Bowman said.

And while she allowed her two children to take the test, Fort Collins parent Joni Liddle said it doesn't surprise her that so many 10th-grade students didn't take the tests.

Those students are old enough to assert their opinions, and they know there is no benefit or punishment, to them at least, for not doing well, Liddle said.

"If you knew it didn't make a difference either way would you take it?" she asked.

— Stacy Nick




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