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Opting out of CSAPs

Ohanian Comment: The Good News is that John Young does such a good job of exposing the hypocrisy and deceit proponents of high stakes testing offer in trying to convince parents to submit their children to this outrage.

The Good News is also this parent's comments on the column.

Dave Commentary Comment:

Be Brave! Opt Out of CSAP
My wife and I opted-out our daughter from CSAP since she was in fourth grade ... this spring she will be a graduating senior, a straight-A student who still experiences the joy of learning.

My advice to parents is to be brave, do what is best for your individual child, don't let the government bully you, and opt out of CSAP or CTAP or whatever it is they are calling it now.

Last week the Denver Post headlined this report: 'More Colorado graduates than ever not ready for college' It is about as bottom-line as you can get ... after thirteen years of 'education reform' in public schools, almost a third of Colorado high school graduates are not even ready for college freshman English or math.

Yet despite evidence that the Bush-Spellings-Obama-Duncan-Romer-Owens-Ritter-Hickenlooper corporatized 'standards-based' accountability and charter education philosophy is such an obvious failure, you can still count on elite "we know what's best for you" representatives of the corporate governing class to defend the status quo.

We are coming up on two decades of the so-called "reform" movement being the prime directing policy in public education. Fourteen years of CSAP testing, of 'accountability' and 'standards' and quasi-privatization through charter schools has gotten us this: FAILURE.

The fact that high school graduates must go through remediation to be prepared for the freshman year at college is a bonfire of evidence that their formula is wrong. The educational establishment's notions for fixing the problem are predictably to double-down on more of the same.

What we need is a genuine revolution in public education. We need to stop degrading the teacher, put them back in charge and allow them the freedom to teach in their classrooms. We need to empower neighborhood schools and local school boards to decide how to educate the children in their charge -- in other words, tell the federal and state government educrats to take a hike. We need to stop the maniacal obsession with the idea that ALL students must go to college -- there are many, many alternative avenues for our young people besides taking on thousands of dollars of debt to get a degree that may not even provide them with a marketable skill. We need to stem the flow of public and private dollars into charter schools that cherry-pick students and still do not adequately educate students -- all public schools should have access to the same resources.

The bottom-line is that twelve years of school ought to be enough time to prepare the vast majority of students to live in the real world and to be prepared for whatever next step they chose to take. The "reform" status quo has failed miserably on this score. It is time to throw it out and start again with a program of common sense and focused on learning, learning, learning -- not on data, tracking and testing.

by John Young

Policymakers may convince themselves it's so. School administrators, hired to sing from a state-issue hymnal, will say it's so.

Any parent who pays attention will know it's not. "School accountability," as the term implies, is not about the students.

From its birth in the 1980s -- the immaculate conception in the mind of Ross Perot when tasked by Texas lawmakers -- the cult of "accountability" has been based on standardized tests that provide scarce diagnostic help to teachers and the children they serve.

Diagnostics, of course, were not the tests' objective. They were meant to compare schools and teachers, even when such comparisons were false and defamatory based on populations served.

It's about the students? Only to the degree that they are props in a hyper-costly state production aimed not at raising their sights toward excellence but focusing on someone's baseline of competency.

That's why Colorado parents opt out of the state test, as is their right.

At this point, few of them do. Considering the pressures they and their children face, that's easy to understand. Remember, though, it's not about them.

Consider a letter distributed to Weld County School District 6 employees advising what to tell parents who say they don't want their children taking part in the Colorado Student Assessment Program.

The first reason: "Opting out hurts the student." How so? In depriving the student of important education? Not at all. In keeping with the spirit of "accountability," the "what's in it for you" is wholly punitive ΓΆ€” the threat of a "no score" on the student's permanent transcript. Cursed. Marked for life. You'll never work in this town again, kid.

The rest of the reasons recited by Weld County Schools are all about things other than the student's needs -- that opting out could hurt the school's test scores or participation rates, with possible state sanctions to come. It even mentions that the community's real estate values hinge on schools' scores.

Home resale -- wow. This gives a whole new meaning to "high stakes testing." One might also worry that sugar beet net proceeds will decline as well.

This type of intimidation motivates Colorado House Bill 1049. Under the measure, which sadly appears to be bottled up in the House, parents or their children no longer would be on the spot in this way. It would change laws that penalize schools or districts that have less than 95 percent participation on the CSAPs.

If "accountability" is about the students, the service offered should earn its way into parents' hearts by demonstrating it, rather than by threatening them.

Of course, since the system is not geared toward serving the students' needs, the system couldn't care less.

That, seemingly, would reside on our shoulders as citizens. State Rep. Judy Solano, a former grade school teacher who is co-sponsor of HB 1049, is one of few voices in the state Capitol speaking up against the absurdity of the system. That absurdity not only includes standards that aren't anything approximating excellence, it's also about cost.

Consider: As Colorado struggles to meet its basic needs in any number of ways, it prepares to spend $80 million on CSAP's next-generation successor. This next test is supposed to be about higher-order thinking, and will be more rigorous. Parents should ask: So?

A test of higher-order skills, one that challenges every student and is diagnostic, is already in place. It's called the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Dump CSAP. Save millions. Administer ITBS in the fall (for the expressed purpose of diagnosing each student's needs) without advance notice to students, without the pressure, and without the teeth-rattling drum roll.

Solano would not be so alone if her cohorts imagined their own children in the stifling, test-heavy environment of policymakers' own making. What we've done is not something one would wish on any student.

Then again, if actions are to be believed, it's not about the students.

John Young of Fort Collins (jyoungcolumn@gmail.com) is an English instructor at Front Range Community College.

— John Young
Denver Post





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