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NCLB Outrages

CSAPs Prompt a Few to Rebel

Ohanian Comment: I find it astounding that a student can be suspended for writing "inappropriate" remarks in a CSAP essay. Suspended for defacing school property!

The executive director of planning, assessment and research for Denver Public Schools, wants Alex and other dissenters to learn to deal with issues with authority. By that she means lie down, role over, and take the test. A better lesson in learning to deal with issues with authority would be to offer a course in civil disobedience. We already have too many lap dogs who can bark on command.

Alex Wilson is a fan of satire, and, OK, tasteless humor loaded with sexual innuendo.

But the 15-year-old student in George Washington High School's International Baccalaureate Program had no idea the trouble he would cause when he wrote a joke response to an essay question about charitable organizations on last year's CSAP exam.

Wilson's test was tossed because he didn't complete it, and he was suspended for two days for writing something obscene and for defacing school property. (Let's just say Wilson's essay dealt with the topic of why he wanted to work with the Boy Scouts, and it wasn't about fostering wholesome brotherly love.)

Another student also was suspended for touting the benefits of a "Drugs for Tots" program.

Now, the teen is in the hot seat again for distributing a publication he helped found, The Green Light, around the southeast Denver high school. A recent edition blasted the Colorado Student Assessment Program exam and included an "opt-out" form parents can sign to excuse their children from the test.

Similar forms are popping up on bus benches and Web sites, thanks in part to a group called the Coalition for Better Education.

"Most (students) would rather eat a golf ball before they try to do well on the CSAPs," Wilson wrote. "Students aren't idiots. We know what the CSAPs are for. They grade the school. They don't grade us."

And, so, as thousands of students statewide hunker down with writing instruments Monday and Tuesday to take the CSAP exams, Wilson won't be among them. His mother signed the form.

He likely won't be alone.

George Washington High School reported that nine students either didn't take the CSAP last year or took tests that didn't count in ninth-grade reading.

That represents only 2 percent of those tested at George Washington, according to testing data, but districtwide, 13 percent of the tests - or 5,269 - were reported as "no scores" in ninth-grade reading.

Wilson won't have to make up the test, but his score will be reported as a zero and impact the entire school's achievement rating and federal funding under No Child Left Behind legislation. Persistently low ratings also result in a school being turned into a charter school.

And that is why, Wilson said, an IB teacher accused him of doing the equivalent of "inciting a riot" or giving instructions on how to build a bomb.

Wilson also said teachers told students that if they didn't do their best on the tests, notes about their lack of effort would be included in their college applications.

"They are choosing to threaten the students on a level which IB students care greatly about, future success," Wilson said. "They are essentially scaring the students into taking the test."

IB coordinator Suzanne Geimer didn't want to comment Thursday and George Washington Principal Mario Williams could not be reached.

Joyce McLarty, executive director of planning, assessment and research for Denver Public Schools, said she urged Alex's mother, Lisa Wilson, to get her son to reconsider taking the test because of the implications for the school.

"One of the things we need to do in our schools is help young people manage their own behavior and learn to deal with issues with authority," McLarty said. "I'm not suggesting the school was going to punish him. . . . He will be presumably going on to college. He will have to take college entrance tests."

As for parental opt-out forms, McLarty said they aren't based on any law related to CSAP.

"These are state and federal requirements," McLarty said. "We are simply following the guidelines. Individuals may or may not agree with them, but it is our responsibility to live within the legal guidelines we've been given, and those guidelines do not include an opt-out provision."

Statewide, the number of parents excusing their children from the test is not necessarily increasing. Statewide test results in 10th-grade reading show that 434 opted out in 2004, 455 did so in 2003 and 334 parents refused to have their children take CSAP exams in 2002.

But at least one area group is organizing a CSAP boycott this year. Last month, parents from Crawford Elementary School in Aurora announced plans to boycott the CSAP tests as a way to protest the closure of the school's Dual Language Program.

McLarty said schools are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to refusal to take the tests.

"We can't force a parent or child to do anything," she said. "You have people making decisions that hurt their schools and you kind of have to stand up and say, 'Please think about this.' "

Lisa Wilson, 47, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, said she supports her son's decision not to take the tests. While admitting he "shouldn't have done what he did" on last year's CSAP, she said the punishment didn't fit the crime and she's still bitter.

"It's the same amount of (suspension) time for a kid starting a fire in a trash can," Lisa Wilson said. "The whole thing is so poorly managed, so punitive."

As for Alex, he's not worried about his academic future despite any reference to his college recommendations being tainted.

"I view them as somewhat empty threats," Wilson said. "When they're writing those recommendations it will be two years from now. Maybe the CSAPs will be gone in two years."

— Julie Poppen
Rocky Mountain News


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