Politicians punish students with CSAP tests
Please Note: M. L. Johnson is a member of the advisory board of the Educator Roundtable.
by M.L. Johnson
A neighborhood third-grade child came home yesterday looking pretty well beat-up. Fatigue and depression had replaced his normal youthful exuberance. Yet, he cannot escape the situation, for he is compelled to return to school and to endure more days of the assault.
However, the assailant was not the archetypical schoolyard bully; it is the state-mandated Colorado Student Assessment Program tests. This is a series of tests that have no consequence and no benefit to him, but his beloved school receives a score of negative .5 if he fails to comply with the testing protocol. The Colorado CSAP Act, one originally designed to eventually compel the privatization of virtually all the state's public schools, was rated the harshest and most punitive education public policy in the nation ... that is until the Federal No Child Left Behind Act.
With the state and national trend for more testing of public schools, the reasonable questions are, "How much testing is productive?"; and "When does testing become counter-productive?"; Perhaps a business model systems analysis could be elucidative. A simple system is composed of four components; a) input, b) output, c) transformation process and d) feedback. Applied to education the components are a) input -- the characteristics of students coming to school; b) output -- the characteristics of student graduates; c) transformation process -- the curriculum and teaching process that changes the incoming student characteristics to the outgoing student characteristics; and d) feedback to assess the rate and type of progress made by the transformation process on the input to achieve the output.
The lesson learned from the quality process guru, W. Edwards Deming, is that a tight feedback loop is necessary and sufficient for optimum quality in the transformation process, meaning that professional-level teacher's assessment of her/his teaching and reteaching from day to day in the classroom should produce the best results.
If you were manufacturing a tangible product you would: a) do a market analysis to determine the type of product (output); b) engineer and install the mechanisms for processing the raw materials (transformation process); c) design an assessment and quality control procedure at critical points in the manufacturing process (feedback); and d) assure that the raw materials were of pre-specified quality (input). Without denigrating the importance of the other system components, Deming found that closely tying effect feedback together during the transformation process produced exceptionally high-quality output; a protocol now termed "Japanese Management." In industry, testing is limited to assuring quality at critical time-points in the production process, as excessive testing is both expensive and counterproductive. In industry, the quality control design is done by engineers who know their system; whereas for public education, testing decisions are made by ideologue politicians.
Unfortunately, with the very limited state and local financial, Colorado is now diverting millions of dollars to mandated CSAP testing at the third fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th grades and ACT college entrance examinations for all eleventh-grade high school students. Three CSAP tests are given in each grade, and all tests are administered at two-thirds of the school year; supposedly to validly estimate what the students would have learned by the end of the full year. Add to this annual event Dynamic Indications of Early Literacy Skills or Drawing and Rendering Artworks tests two or three times per year, specific computerized competency tests (Standardized Testing and Reporting tests), daily, weekly unit tests in each subject and an occasional National Assessment of Education Progress test.
At least the subject area tests are related to achievement of the respective students, whereas the CSAP only renders test score data to compare one year's class to the preceding or succeeding classes. Even worse, CSAP test scores are being used to compare classes in respective schools without any reporting of the demographic differences; that is, with no indication of whether students in School A are from privileged families and the students in School B are from impoverished families. CSAP testing is not just comparing Apples and Oranges, it compares last year's Apples and Oranges to this year's Apples and Oranges; all with a terrible expense in student learning time and state and local financial resources.
Perhaps the most pernicious effect of this "High Stakes Testing Gone Wild" is the pressured re-structuring of classroom instruction to get students to be able to "pass the test"; otherwise the school is at risk for being privatized. Thus, as a defensive strategy, the breadth of curriculum and classroom activities are being narrowed to the CSAP test contents. Interestingly, authors of "The Texas Miracle"; administrators of a school system that significantly improved its state test scores, disclaim any "teaching to the test"; and they claim only to have taught to the state standards. However, since the state tests are structured to the parameters of the state standards, then teaching narrowly to the state standards is the same as "teaching to the test." If A (classroom instruction) is equal to B (State standards) and B is equal to C (Standards-based tests), then A is equal to C!
Under the guise of "requiring accountability in public education," bizarre and counterproductive High Stakes Testing public policies have been enacted; policies certainly worthy of inclusion in a Dilbert cartoon strip.
M.L. Johnson of Fort Collins is a retired public school and university teacher who now does research in early childhood education and intervention. He is a member of the Poudre School District board of education.
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