Most people know by now that NCLB stands for No Child Left Behind, a federal mandate to all states that they assess all of their students. Many people believe that NCLB is a federally written test and that every state uses the same test, but with its own name. This is not true. States feared having the federal government force a particular test, so every state used its own test that exceeded the minimum requirements of the federal mandate. CSAP stands for Colorado Student Assessment Program and is, of course, Colorado's NCLB test. I participated in the initial phase of the math test creation before I stopped teaching in the mid 1990s. When I returned to teaching in 2003, I was shocked to find a test intentionally designed to decrease the likelihood of student success. Even more shocking--we designed it ourselves!
After Colorado decided, like all the other states, that it did not want the federal government dictating how we tested our students, the process of creating our own test began. In the initial round of mathematics test creation, all the schools in Colorado were asked to create a WISH LIST for what all students ideally would know upon graduation from high school. These wish lists were to get thinned many times until the result would be an instrument that would show what the majority of--NOT ALL--students could realistically be expected to know upon graduation.
I left teaching shortly after that initial wish list was created for my school. I returned to teaching 9 years later. CSAPs were in place, and I was shocked to see the final mathematics result. The test I found was NOT even remotely what it was originally intended to be.
The test I found was designed for student failure. The following four facts validate that statement:
1. Test questions are written containing several concepts. A question might ask students to measure the sides of a figure, calculate the area in one unit of measure, but then convert the final answer into another unit of measure, and, of course, properly place the labeled answer in the correct location. (Any work that extends outside the box causes a zero, but that is a different issue.) If the question is missed, why was it missed? Multiple concept questions have no diagnostic value. If the goal is to test knowledge of a particular concept, the question must only involve that concept. To do otherwise is poor test design.
2. The test includes questions from topics the students haven't been taught. For example, the 9th grade math test has questions from Geometry--a 10th grade subject. The 10th grade math test contains Trigonometry questions. In both 9th and 10th grade these extra topics may be introduced at the END of the year as pre-exposure for the next school year, but CSAPs are given in March--before these extra topics would be covered...UNLESS the teacher scrambles to cover this material at the last minute, which most teachers try to do, but this never creates learning or good test success.
3. CSAPs use the "standardized testing concept" that if a question is answered correctly by 90% or more of the students, the question is considered "too easy" and removed for the next year. Rather than being removed, the question should be celebrated for the MASTERY is shows. When a test is created with the importance of NCLB/CSAP, with the GOAL of having every student master the subject, and students and teachers spend the entire school year preparing for that test, it is NOT unreasonable to expect mastery on many concepts. Ideally, we should expect many of the questions to have a high success rate. This is, after all, the goal of the entire NCLB process. However, over a 10 year period, what would you expect to be the result of removing the "easy" questions every year? Is it any wonder that scores drop every year?
4. Schools and teachers are being judged by comparing two different groups of students--this year's 10th graders to last year's 10th graders. No comparison is even possible. Along the same lines of absurdity, a student who moves into a new school just before CSAPs must still take the test and have his score count for the new school even though the new school had no influence on that student's knowledge. A student who moves out of the district just before CSAPs has his non-score counted as a negative number against the former school. In addition, parent refusals count as negative numbers against their school and that number of parent refusals grows considerably every year.
If there is still any doubt about the purpose of NCLB/CSAP, you only need to know one additional fact: There is absolutely NO STUDENT ACCOUNTABILITY for their own results. No tie to graduation. NOTHING!
There simply is NO LOGIC in any of this. So what does this all mean? It means that the people in Washington DC who have been so very verbal about their intentions to dismantle public education actually exist everywhere--even in Colorado. The Colorado test is known as one of the most difficult in the country and many of the ridiculous rules attached to it where created by people from Colorado who share the same "destroy public education" goal as so many in the former administration.
I am just one of many who feel--who know--that NCLB has harmed education in ways that will take decades to repair. Unfortunately, those of us in Colorado must face one sad but important fact. We did this to ourselves! We created a test designed for failure. We created rules impossible for schools to accomplish. We are destroying our own education system. We are sending our best teachers out of the profession in droves. It is easy to point fingers at a generic "they," but we did this to ourselves.
As in the famous quote: We have met the enemy, and he is us! Shame on us, Colorado! Now, how are we going to fix this? How are we going to do right by our students--our future leaders?
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