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NCLB Outrages

Standardized Testing Fritters Away Precious Resources for Education

by Representative Judy Solano

Again this year, the taxpayers of Colorado will spend millions on
standardized tests to over comply with the underfunded federal mandate
of No Child Left Behind.

More than $20 million will be spent on CSAPs this year, with only a
fraction of the dollars coming from the feds. That doesn’t count for the
tens of thousands of local dollars each school district spends for
student- preparation materials, data compilation, lost instruction time
and state reporting. The estimated cost of CSAPs to Colorado taxpayers
is well more than $50 million.

And yes, we over comply with the federal mandate. Colorado is one of
only 14 states that exceed federal requirements. Under the NCLB law,
each state must test students annually in grades three through eight and
once in high school in reading, math and science. In Colorado, we test
three times in high school and tack on an additional writing test.

What are we getting for those extra tests? What is our bang for our CSAP
buck? Here are some results: When President Bush signed No Child Left
Behind into law in 2001 and high-stakes testing began, Colorado’s
dropout rate was 2.6 percent across all ethnic and racial groups. Today,
our dropout rate has increased to more than 4.5 percent.

Graduation rates have dipped from 82 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in
2006. For minorities, the numbers are even more distressing. Graduation
rates among Hispanics dropped 9 percent, to 56.6 percent. For African-
Americans, the graduation rate plunged from 74 percent to 63 percent in

In just four years, the achievement gap between whites and minorities
has widened.

CSAP scores have changed very little from year to year. Last year’s test
results indicate 70 percent of students who scored unsatisfactorily
three years ago remain unsatisfactory today. High school scores can be
described as unchanged.

Forty percent of fifth- graders who scored “advanced” on CSAPs in third
grade scored “proficient” this year. Are our smart third graders being
“dumbed down” as they become fifth graders?

One of the strongest correlations in this data-driven-assessment world
we have created is that the higher the population of low-income
students, the lower the CSAP scores. Eight of 10 students participating
in the free or reduced-price lunch program are enrolled in the bottom 10
percent of schools in terms of performance. The higher the family
income, the higher the test scores. Only five of 100 students
participating in free or reduced-priced lunch program are enrolled in
the top 10 percent of schools.

This is not an excuse; it is a reality. Testing more does not change the
results. Equal opportunities, fair funding and effective resources
affect learning.

Believing that high-stakes testing will improve learning is like taking
the temperature of a sick child and expecting him to get well. Until we
are willing to invest in the proven educational remedies, we can expect
more of the same. Such things as small class sizes, quality teachers,
vocational training and post-secondary opportunities, art, music,
technology, before- and after-school programs, preschool, and full-day
kindergarten all would be better uses of our money than excess testing.

Authentic assessments, locally driven accountability, and teacher
influence have positive impacts on learning. Dependence on one
standardized test to measure, capture and quantify human learning is
chasing false hope. Human potential can not be measured and trying to do
so is a waste of money.

Let’s stop wasteful spending and redirect resources to proven programs.

State Rep. Judy Solano, D-Thornton, spent 29 years as a fifth-grade
teacher. She is vice chair of the House Education Committee and the
sponsor of two bills dealing with CSAP reform.

— Judy Solano
Rocky Mountain News


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