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Colorado author & parent: CDE’s response on CSAP is Unsatisfactory

March 17, 2011

Note: The following comes from Seeds of Tomorrow author Angela Engel. She shared this because she is concerned over the misinformation being given to parents, as well as the way in which concerned parents are being marginalized in discussions over their children’s educations.

A longtime educator and children’s advocate, she has opted her children out of CSAP for years, because of her desire to raise happy, well-adjusted children as well as her concerns over the political misuse of high-stakes tests, their effect on the curriculum, and the use of resources on tests that she believes should be spent on instruction. Instead, her two daughters engage in research projects during the time when their classmates are taking CSAP.

Angela’s comments in response to CDE’s statements are in bold; any  follow-up comments from me are in bold and italics.

*      *      *

March 17, 2011

Dear Superintendent,

On March 1, 2011 the Colorado Department of Education released the following memo “CSAP misconceptions and facts” to Colorado superintendents regarding CSAP. I have provided corrections to each of those statements below in bold. Please feel free to contact me with additional questions.

“Dear Superintendents,
We have had several phone calls again this year about the considerations by a few parents to refuse having their children take the state assessments. Despite the convictions of a few, the law and the rules of the assessment are clear about student participation on the CSAP. Here are some clarifications.”

Misconception 1: Parents may “opt out” their child(ren) from participating in the state assessment program (CSAP/CSAP-A).

Clarification: Per Colorado law [22-7-409(1.2.a.1.d.I)], as part of the school and district accountability system, every student enrolled in a public school is required to take CSAP or CSAP-A. There is nothing in this section of the law allowing parents choice regarding this testing. People may be confusing the law governing testing with the law governing instruction in human sexuality. Parents are able to excuse their child(ren) from the curriculum concerning human sexuality. The state assessment does not cover this area of the curriculum; therefore, this part of the law does not apply to CSAP/CSAP-A.

In 2010 there were 324 parental refusals, 519 tests that were not completed, 157 students withdrew before completion, 20 were listed as not completed due to extreme frustration, 254 were misadministered.

To clarify, parents are not confused. We are opting our children out and we will continue to do so.

My thoughts: I’m not a parent yet, but I’d be mighty outraged if  I was told I had no choice in the types of experiences my child had at school. Whether expressly provided for in the law or not, parents have the right to make choices for their children as long as those choices aren’t abusive/illegal. And really, given how many children are stressed to the point of illness over these exams, how can they say parents shouldn’t have the right to protect their children’s well-being by opting out?

Misconception 2: Schools and districts are not penalized when parents refuse to allow their child(ren) to be assessed.

Clarification: Lack of participation is represented in both AYP and the new accreditation system as reflected in the Performance Frameworks. Schools and districts not meeting the participation requirements drop one full category on the Performance Frameworks.

The participation requirement is 95%. More than half of schools are currently not meeting AYP. It is because of unrealistic benchmarks and has nothing to do with test participation rates. Negative weighted penalties have been removed. See link below:
School academic performance ratings (SAR) will no longer be assigned for Colorado schools. The Education Accountability Act of 2009 (SB 09-163) repealed previous SAR law. Negative weights for Unsatisfactory and No Score percentages are not in effect anymore.

“…non-participant data are not counted as zeroes – they are excluded from the calculation… So the calculations are performed on the basis solely of students that took the test and had valid scores on it.” – Jo O’Brien – Assistant Commissioner of Standards, Colorado Department of Education.

Parental rights are broadly protected by Supreme Court decisions (Meyer and Pierce), especially in the area of education. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that parents posses the “fundamental right” to “direct the upbringing and education of their children.” Furthermore, the Court declared that

the child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations. (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510, 534-35)

The Supreme Court criticized a state legislature for trying to interfere “with the power of parents to control the education of their own.” (Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 402.) In Meyer, the Supreme Court held that the right of parents to raise their children free from unreasonable state interferences is one of the unwritten “liberties” protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (262 U.S. 399).

In recognition of both the right and responsibility of parents to control their children’s education, the Court has stated,

It is cardinal with us that the custody, care and nurture of the child reside first in the parents, whose primary function and freedom include preparation for the obligations the State can neither supply nor hinder. (Prince V. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158)

Misconception 3: Parental refusals have no negative impact on students as a group.

Clarification: The accuracy of all of the accountability data is impacted when students do not participate due to parental refusal. This data is publicly displayed and also is utilized to make policy decisions at the state, district and school level. Obviously, the more accurately the data reflects the true performance of the students the better when high stakes decisions are being made. We entrust our schools with the great responsibility of educating our children. CSAP gives us a common tool to use when we’re looking at how well schools and districts are doing that job and preparing kids for the world of college or work. It is useful for Colorado’s citizens to be able to look at the performance of its public schools using a common, fair tool, given under the same conditions in every school: CSAP. It’s an important method of looking at all our schools and districts in a comparable way.

CSAP has had a negative impact on students, schools and the education profession.

“We entrust our schools with the great responsibility of educating our children” – Clearly this is a falsehood or the federal and state government would not be wasting so much money to micro-manage administrators and educators.

Last year nearly $300 million was cut to k-12 education, this year similar cuts will be made. At the same time k-12 is experiencing massive cuts the State School Board voted to expand CSAP. While you are debating which schools to close, teachers to lay-off, and student services to cut, you should take a close look at where the money is being spent.

Education is the only profession where the professionals are not in control.

Misconception 4: Parental refusals have no negative impact on their individual child(ren).

Clarification: CSAP does not try to measure all the learning students engage in throughout the year – but it is a very reliable end-of-year measure of how well students can read, write, and do math and science problems. Students who do not participate are not provided with this information. In addition, students who do not participate in state testing do not get growth projections, which can be an important gauge of whether or not the student is on track. Further, CSAP scores serve as an early predictor of college and career readiness. As an example, they are able to provide a good prediction of each student’s probable ACT scores.

CSAP is not reliable; in fact it has never been independently audited or evaluated for validity. Open-ended responses are scored by temporary workers employed through Kelly Services who have little or no education background.

See this link for test sample and grading rubric.

Parents are also not interested in decorative growth projections. Those serve bureaucrats so they can feel like they have accomplished something. Good instruction and positive school climates are the best predictors of college and career readiness, not scatter plots and line graphs. We trust our teachers to communicate our children’s progress and we want our resources going to smaller class sizes, staff development, student services, and to creating meaningful learning opportunities.

Misconception 5: Schools are obligated to provide alternate learning activities during testing times.

Clarification: Since all students are required to take CSAP/CSAP-A, schools are not required to provide alternate activities.

This is correct. One out of five according to standardized grading mechanisms qualifies as an ‘F.’ However, I would caution administrators against putting children to work filing, cleaning, and completing other office tasks that are otherwise the responsibility of paid school personnel. For laws pertaining to child labor, please consult the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Additionally, while anti-bullying legislation is being considered in both the Colorado State House and the United States Capitol, please consider your district assessment policies and the examples of leadership that you are setting in your communities.

What it means to be educated (Link directs to video created by Alex Kasch, a Jefferson County Open School student)

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