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A 10-Year-Old Goes to Battle Against CSAP

Susan Notes: In Colorado, a 10-year-old and a former middle school teacher stand tall to battle an elephant.

Ohanian Comment: Some of you may remember our hero Don Perl, the Greeley teacher who refused to give the CSAP a few years back. Don is now mounting a campaign to get rid of it. If you live in Colorado, give him a hand

He's only 10, but Anthony Cummings knows that age cannot trump tenacity.

The fourth-grader at McKinley-Thatcher Elementary is on a quest for what he calls education justice.

If you're wondering, yes, Anthony not only uses those terms, he understands the concept well.

Last week, to protest what he considers a flawed exam, he skipped the Colorado Student Assessment Program - with permission from his parents.

Instead, during the three hours his classmates took CSAP last week, Anthony read a book about individual rights under the U.S. Constitution.

He also went with his mom to the state Capitol, where he listened to legislators debate the merits of bills.

Next week, Anthony is meeting with state Sen. Ken Gordon, a liberal who sits on the education committee. Anthony hopes to persuade him to introduce a bill next year to improve CSAP.

Anthony wants exam results within a month, not a year.

He doesn't like that a zero is averaged into the overall class average if a student doesn't take the test.

He wants the State Accountability Report to list how many students have learning disabilities and are not proficient in English.

But, ultimately, Anthony wants the state to scrap CSAP altogether.

Gordon said he doubts there is "the political will" to abolish the statewide exam, but he's long thought it should be fixed. He said he's eager to hear Anthony's suggestions.

A few years back, at the suggestion of a child, Gordon filed a bill to double speeding fines in school zones. It passed.

But while Gordon searches for ways to work within the confines of the General Assembly, a grassroots campaign is taking root.

Don Perl, a former middle school teacher in Greeley who now teaches at the University of Northern Colorado, is working to get an initiative on the November ballot to eliminate CSAP.

For one, Perl says it's a waste of money. He shared Colorado Department of Education figures that put the cost at $16 million just to process the exam.

He said the results tell us what we already know: that schools with a high number of poor children perform poorly compared with schools with a high number of middle-class or wealthy children.

And Perl said it narrows curriculum because teachers in underperforming schools wind up spending class time practicing the test with their students.

When told about Anthony Cummings' interest in getting rid of CSAP, Perl said, "He must be outraged in his own 10-year-old way."

Anthony knows he's a kid, but that's a plus. He's got what I like to call the "Columbo effect."

Just like the TV-show detective who fooled people by pretending he wasn't sharp, some people assume Anthony doesn't have the kind of political savvy required to take on the state.

Don't underestimate a precocious kid who, for fun, reads "Cirque du Freak."

He is in the gifted-and-talented program at school, has an incredible imagination and, most important, has two well-educated parents who support him - Petra Ulrych, a theater teacher, and Michael Cummings, a political science teacher at the University of Colorado-Denver.

Anthony said, "I was going to try to get other students not to take it, but then I found out that if (more than 5) percent of them don't, they could lose federal funding" under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Turns out that as of last week, it is no longer a requirement, said Joyce McLarty, DPS executive director for assessment and testing. So students still have time this week to ask their parents' permission not to take the exam. Anthony's dream of leading a student revolution could come to fruition after all.

And Ulrych, his mom, would be proud: "As cool as I think it would be for him to lead a student revolution, for me it's more important that Anthony articulate his mind and take a stand on something he believes in."

His principal, Vicki Cyr, is not pleased.

Though she, too, has issues with CSAP, she tried to talk Anthony into taking the exam because his absence is a zero that gets averaged into his class score, lowering it.

But she knows he's following his heart, which she admires. "I hope one day he is in a leadership role so he can improve education," Cyr said.

That's his plan. But while he grows into that position, he contemplates the reactions he's gotten from adults around him.

He said a teacher told him that cliché about choosing his battles wisely and said something about him fighting "an elephant."

Anthony knows he's dealing with two huge bureaucracies: state government and the Colorado Department of Education, but he feels strongly he can at least nudge that elephant.

— Cindy Rodriguez
Denver Post


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