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NCLB Outrages

It's Time to Scrap the CSAP

Our children are unique, creative creatures, not McNuggets,
and they need to be inspired, not standardized.

by Eric Fried

Last week my children came home with the annual notice about their
school's upcoming Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests,
which steal valuable time from actual learning over many weeks. The most
galling part is the recommendation that my kids get a good night's sleep
and eat a good breakfast, so they can perform well on the tests. Since
we don't get a notice to send them to school rested and well fed on
normal school days, school administrators are telling us that testing
matters more than learning.

Although the CSAP's predate the federal No Child Left Behind law,
they've been folded into that wrong-headed national regimen of "teaching
to the test" in the name of accountability. These standardized tests
don't actually test students (we have plenty of better tests for that),
they test their schools, and the penalty for failure can be
institutional death. Therefore, nothing is more important to schools
than doing well on CSAP's, and if frills like recess, foreign languages,
art and music have to be kicked to the curb to allow more time for test
prep, so be it.

What's wrong with CSAP's? Let me count the ways:

- This one-size-fits-all unfunded federal mandate focuses on rote
memorization, superficial knowledge, and test-taking skills, rather than
concept integration, reasoning strategies, and critical thinking. Is
this really what we want the next generation to learn in this complex,
changing world?

- Standardized test results are closely linked to socioeconomic factors.
The bigger the parents' homes, the higher the scores. The more kids
getting free school lunches, and the more with language barriers, the
lower the scores. Poor kids going to underfunded schools do worse, but
instead of their schools being helped with more resources, their schools
face closure if low scores continue.

- CSAP and similar tests are not improving student performance,
according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. However, the
soul-deadening effects of these tests is driving more teachers from the
profession and increasing student dropout rates.

No wonder a 2007 Gallup poll shows only one in four Americans believe No
Child Left Behind is helping their schools, while the rest feel it is
either hurting or has no effect. More states, school districts and
congressional reps are demanding an end to (or major reform of) this law.

There's good reason for this growing skepticism: No Child Left Behind's
real agenda was never to help, but to destroy public schools. Failing
schools can have their plug pulled and converted to charter schools,
with great political impetus given to the movement for school vouchers.
Vouchers will help dissolve the great social glue of our democratic
system—the unifying idea of free public education for all—and open the
door for direct tax subsidies to religious and private schools, thereby
demolishing the wall separating church and state and turning education
into a marketable commodity.

Who has benefited from this bait-and-switch law? Consider the case of
McGraw-Hill, publisher of textbooks and test materials, including the
CSAPs. Their company profits were $49 million in 1993 (before CSAP's),
but soared to over $300 million in one decade. CEO Harold McGraw III
bragged, "Today's reform movement has been propelled from the beginning
by powerful political and economic interests." Another winner in the
high-stakes curriculum/testing landscape is the much smaller Ignite!
Learning, whose hyper-expensive Curriculum on Wheels (COW) modules do
not meet rigorous Congressional standards, but are spreading nationwide
nonetheless. I'm sure it's purely coincidental that Ignite! is run by
First Brother Neil Bush, last seen looting Colorado taxpayers of $1.6
billion in the Silverado Savings and Loan scandal.

Help stop this madness. Call your Congresswoman. Go to the Coalition for
Better Education Web site
download a CSAP opt-out form, and give it to your child's teacher or
principal. Our children are unique, creative creatures, not McNuggets,
and they need to be inspired, not standardized.

Eric Fried is peeling the UPC labels off his children's heads at

— Eric Fried
Fort Collins Now


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