By Ralph Trenary
It would be a waste of time to count all of my diplomas and class certificates. The most significant stack was generated during 26 years in the military and in government employment. Those two organizations place a sometimes excessive priority on education and training.
Since 1980 I’ve attended, organized and led numerous seminars or “leadership stand-downs” on every social issue and criminal or near-criminal act that has been attributed to a soldier or government employee. The mandatory annual briefings and trainings burden that has been placed on our armed services and civil servants is nearly as great as the weight of the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) on our public schools.
The cost of that mandatory training in my previous professional life was measured in salaries and diverted productivity. Military readiness plans all-too-routinely sacrificed available training days to establish the armed forces as leading the way and setting a higher standard on a wide range of issues.
For Colorado educators the sacrifice is approximately $16 million a year spent on end-of-year tests that ultimately hold a school, but no student, accountable. In theory, CSAP seeks to raise the unsatisfactory student to become partially proficient, proficient and even find a few graded as advanced.
Adherents to CSAP are proficient at reducing the discussion to the idea of needing to hold students to a single academic standard: the test. That seems only partially proficient when the framework of the CSAP is based on holding the school accountable and rendering penalties on the school. The student taking a CSAP test year after year, from third through 10th grades, knows this fact with varying reactions.
High school juniors rejoice that they have been freed from the CSAP. Anecdotal tales proliferate of students purposefully “bombing” the CSAP to embarrass teachers and administrators. Why not? The designers and defenders of CSAP have systemized and institutionalized such behavior.
After several years of painful exposure to CSAP planning, conduct and outcomes analysis, I’m convinced that CSAP is more a product improvement plan than an educational program. Each class of students is categorized more like a production run than a group of individuals. CSAP places no importance on the record of a student’s achievements throughout their education career. It compares the current production line of eighth graders to the previous year’s production, towards the continuous improvement goal, as if the kids were an ISO 9001 commodity.
Oh wait, then there’s the negative one-half percent penalty if a student (product) does not take the CSAP test. This makes the “opt-out” movement counter-productive. A parent taking their child out of a CSAP test subjects the school to a -.05 score. Not a zero, but a penalty that diminishes the grades of students who completed the test.
This converts a supposed parental right into a backdoor penalty against the school. The opt-out protest campaigns are missing what should be their real target, state and federal lawmakers. In effect, they’re beating down the public schools by their decision. It would be an advanced strategy to direct their displeasure over CSAP upon those who created it and resist any effort to reform its expenses and deplorable procedures.
The school districts have no choice but to follow the law. The rest of us, as parents, grandparents and even future employers of public school graduates would find our time and efforts better spent guiding the decisions of lawmakers. Perhaps we do need someone in the legislature who can deal with education issues that are more significant than fussing incessantly about the dangers of a foreign flag displayed in a classroom.