Teacher's Desk: CSAP SNAFU

Running for a seat on the Colorado Board of Education almost two decades ago, I championed the idea of an accountability test. Little did I know I would later be suffering the angst of giving such a test. This CSAP was not what I had in mind. I was of the mindset that we give a test to measure students’ performance of Colorado academic standards that was simple, easy-to-take, easy-to-assess, and inexpensive like an Iowa, California, or ACT. Today, as site assessment leader at our school, I arrange and train proctors, keep all the different tests organized, and proctor make-up after make-up after make-up tests. The students required to take the CSAP are our recently enrolled students who generally have poor attendance, poor skills, and even poorer attitudes. Fortunately, that is usually less than 30 students for day and night school! Proctoring make-up tests takes away the planning period of two teachers and the attention of our discipline coach (dean).

Larger high schools and middle schools do wonderful give-a-ways of I-pods, video games, flat screen televisions, and gift certificates. Students are usually given a number for a drawing after each test they take. For 8th and 10th graders, that is approximately twelve hours of testing! Even though many of these students are not used to making good choices, many of them show up for every test and try to do their best. Recently, the legislature looked at forbidding schools from using incentives.

The original purpose of this test was to make schools accountable to their communities and taxpayers, as well as, compare schools’ results so that parents could make better school choices. I don’t disagree with that. There were plenty of schools in poor neighborhoods that were making excuses instead of doing the job the taxpayers were paying them to do: educate every child, no matter the child’s circumstance. I do think it is time to find a more efficient method of assessing student progress by using a simpler, less expensive assessment tool aligned with our state standards.

In March 4th’s Denver Post, www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_11830285, parents at Hanson Pre-K through 8 school are using the CSAP as a weapon. They want the district to return their school, the lowest performing school in the district, to a bi-lingual approach and reinstate their beloved principal, even though objective assessments inform us the bi-lingual format is not improving student performance. By holding the school “hostage,” the school’s aggregate scores will be even lower and places the school at-risk for closure.

Instead, if the parents want a bi-lingual approach to their students’ education, and they feel their desires are ignored, they should develop their own charter school that is designed to support a bi-lingual environment. There are several schools, mostly charter schools, that take a bi-lingual or even multi-lingual approach. The Colorado League of Charter Schools and Colorado Department of Education are great resources for start-up charter schools.

Governor Ritter’s P-20 panel wants Colorado to take another look at state accountability tests, especially at the high school level. That makes sense to me, as long as there continues to be transparent accountability of student achievement.

Kathleen Kullback is a special educator with an MA in educational leadership and is a former candidate for the Colorado State Board of Education.