Flat Scores in the Rocky Mountain State: CSAP 2010
When I look for statistics or other numbers to help put a story into perspective, I can’t help but think of the quote attributed to Mark Twain regarding lies and statistics. Nevertheless, I appreciate that numbers can help us in explaining trends just about as much as they can create a skewed version of the truth. In general, the word to describe this year’s Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) test scores is ‘flat’. (That said, I wonder: was I the only one confused about how to access the stats on this year’s CSAP results for grades 4 and up? The Denver Post used to provide a tidy little table of all pertinent information in hard copy version, and they may still do so, but I no longer get the Post delivered to my home. When I finally had time to check into the scores I, couldn’t find a table that shows all information at once; it seems you have to look school-by-school, district by district, particular to the demographic you want to see, or you can see a much more generalized picture of all Colorado students. I would much rather see nicely aligned tables with numbers to help me make comparisons.)
The general stories I’m seeing tell us that Colorado’s results have shown some growth, but perhaps not as much growth as desired, perhaps with the exception of Aurora, Denver, Harrison District 2 and Mapleton schools. A story posted by Todd Engdahl on Education News Colorado does not indicate any compelling solutions offered by the Colorado Department of Education :
Bill Bonk, who works on growth issues for the Department of Education, said, “We face great challenge in this state” in helping such students catch up. …“More than 85 percent of students who need to catch up don’t appear to be doing so,” Bonk said. “The actions taken thus far have not been effective enough.” Asked what the state should be doing, Bonk said, “Part of the reason for having a growth model is to shine a light” on the problem. “It doesn’t show the path ahead.”
Yes, but we are all about shining that light on “the problem”. For example, we had school “report cards”, now we talk about school performance framework, and we talk about AYP, and about restructuring schools who fail to meet it, and then we talk about things like SB 191 and how we really should be making sure teachers are effective. We are practically turning cartwheels in our enthusiasm to talk about it but we don’t seem to settle down long enough to honestly address solving it. If the tests were truly useful in helping us to improve student performance, shouldn’t we have some sort of path by now? Um, and if they aren’t helping us to make improvements for kids’ educations, then has the expenditure for things like producing, conducting, and scoring the CSAP been a truly efficient use of educational resources?
The Denver Post mentions an interesting disconnect between Colorado’s self-proclaimed emphasis on reforms and its lack of significant improvement in test scores. Nancy Mitchell at Education News Colorado asks the question of whether or not reform is paying off, while also mentioning that some districts are “experimenting” with a variety of strategies to boost scores. However that concept worries me, I’m wary about ongoing “experiments” in education, because they haven’t appeared to help yet. We have been putting our efforts into such tests in Colorado for over 10 years now and accordingly aligning our judgments of a school’s merit. This gets everybody excited, for better or for worse, but fear of low scores has led to many poor administrative decisions that don’t reflect best practices identified by quality educational research. Every time I turn around, schools are changing their programs or their approaches from one type or brand to another without having invested adequate time to see whether the previous programs aided (or hindered) student learning over the long term. And by the way, CSAP (or any standardized test) does not provide us with complete information of what individual children need to grow as learners, especially since most results are released after the school year. August is too late to adjust one’s lessons or practice to help with that preceding group of kids.
What if we tried investing some effort into cultivating skills students indisputably need to succeed in their successive years of education, and in the eventual job market? Real reform would consist of identifying and focusing on those elements that enable people to communicate effectively, to make sense of the world and to become productive, contributing members of the work force. All of the nation’s schools need strong, well-developed curricula that will develop such skills. As educators, we all need to emphasize rigorous instruction and high expectations of students. Collectively we, as a society, need to demonstrate the willingness to invest the resources in assisting students who need additional support, whether due to lack of English, learning/cognitive disabilities, or other less visible factors. We also need to ensure that children have equal access to quality early childhood education, and that teachers have access to quality professional development. How about keeping it simple instead of running around like ants at a picnic? Let’s commit to faithfully implementing identified best practices, just for fun. We could even call it an experiment.