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NCLB Outrages

CSAPs: Stop negative score for untaken yests!

The author urges parents to get active about demanding school reform.

by Michele Patterson

CSAPs: What's Right for Our Children?

I'm not against standardized testing. I remember taking standardized tests
as a child. Teachers told students to do their best and that was the end
of it. It was simply one form, one method, to measure how children were
doing at that point in time.

Not so anymore. The Colorado Student Assessment Plan has turned public
education upside down, all so Governor Owens and other politicians of the
past can say they did something about the need for education reform.

No Child Left Behind mandates that all children will be proficient in
reading and math by the year 2014. (What dreamland were our Washington
representatives living in when they agreed to this?) This means,
basically, that our schools must, every year, show more and more growth
toward this 100% proficiency or risk being penalized or even closed down.
It means 100% of all children, regardless of disabilities and other
considerations, will be 100% proficient in reading and math by 2014.

As if this weren't bad enough, Colorado has tacked on an extra -.05 score
for children who do not participate in CSAP because they are ill, out of
town, or opted out by their parents.

The fact that our schools are graded solely on this one test is a crime in
itself. To further punish schools for the decisions of parents or other
circumstances that are out of the school's control is beyond ridiculous.
The fact that this negative score skews the data on our School
Accountability Reports should be enough to compel any state legislator to
vote in favor of doing away with it.

For four legislators on the House Education Committee, however, this was
not the case. I testified on Monday, February 12, in favor of
Representative Judy Solano's House Bill 1186, "No Penalty for
Nonparticipation in CSAP." I think I did a rather poor job in my testimony
but, thankfully, there were several well-spoken people who made up for it.

The vote, at the end of it all, was 9 in favor and 4 opposed to this bill.
It did pass but I can't help feeling disappointment, and even some
disgust, that the vote was not unanimous.

Colorado is the only state in the nation that tacks on a punitive score
for children who do not participate in CSAP. The logic behind this
negative score is that it will keep parents from opting their children out
of the tests. That it will prevent teachers from urging parents to keep
their special education or low scoring children home. (No Child Left
Behind requires a 95% participation rate on these tests as it is, so this
happens very, very rarely.)

The truth is that parents will do what they feel is best for their
children regardless of any penalty their school might take.

Perhaps if there weren't so much stress placed on our school districts,
administrators, teachers and ultimately, our children, to do well on these
tests, legislators wouldn't have to worry about parents opting their
children out at all.

When my 11 th grade child is sick to her stomach nervous about taking the
ACT test, that's one thing. When a 3 rd grader is throwing up the morning
CSAP testing begins that is quite another. There is a problem here.
When school days are lengthened and recess and lunch times are decreased
(in some states they have done away with recess altogether) in order to
allow more time toward improving CSAP test scores, there is a problem.

The funny thing is, with all this stress placed on our schools and
children to do well on CSAPs, our state is not making the grade. We
haven't met the mandate of No Child Left Behind for Annual Yearly Progress
since NCLB went into effect. Not many states have. This alone should tell
us all something about the validity of grading our schools based solely on
one test. Furthermore, the people who grade our children's CSAP tests
don't have to be educators or even have any kind of degree.

Then there is the fifty some odd million dollars we, as taxpayers, pay
each year for all this testing.

For me, the bottom line is, the state government has no right to hold me
hostage as a parent, forcing me to weigh what I feel is best for my
children against the punishment of a negative test score for my school if
I choose to opt them out of testing. The state government has no right to
threaten any school with this negative score for parental decisions that
are beyond the school's control.

As stated previously, I am not against standardized testing. I am not
against holding our schools and teachers accountable. What I believe is
that the people, the legislators and school board members, enacting the
standards of accountability for our schools have the responsibility to
ensure that accountability is realistic and reasonable. They have the
responsibility to see to it that our schools are funded properly in order
to meet these accountability mandates. Right now we have neither
responsible legislation nor proper funding.
No Child Left Behind is under-funded by something like $21 billion. Our
schools have had the weight of mandate after mandate after mandate placed
on them without the funding to hire more teachers, aids, and materials to
meet these mandates.

Something has to change but it will not happen until parents like me, like
you, protest what is happening to our schools. Until we come out and make
it clear that we have had it with the kind of stress placed on CSAP
testing, these problems will continue. Parents need to write to their
legislators (www.votesmart.com will help you find out who they are and
where to call or write) and tell them we want change. Tell them this
negative score for tests not taken makes for unreliable data and should be
done away with!

These are our children. It's past time all our representatives,
republicans and democrats alike, thought more about how these innocent,
young people are affected by irresponsible education legislation than they
do about toeing their party line. The four state representatives who voted
against House Bill 1186 should be ashamed of themselves.

— Michele Patterson


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