"We, the Coalition for Better Education Inc., are often asked what should replace the Colorado Student Assessment Program. We are accused of having no plan for education ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, I don't see why removing a program that isn't working, has never been shown to work and has been marred by corruption should so threaten our critics."
No Child Left Behind and CSAP testing were instituted because politicians, not educational leaders, believed this regimen was necessary to improve education. The only people in education who wholeheartedly endorsed these measures were researchers who profited from the testing materials. The $6 billion dollar reading initiative at the center of NCLB, Reading First, has been investigated for numerous conflicts of interest. Even more relevant is a U.S. Department of Education comprehensive study of Reading First that reports no improvement in children's reading skills.
Those of you who support current programs would learn their harms by talking to professors. We have seen student skills spiraling downward, with each incoming class seeming to be slightly less able than the last.
So we propose a return to a richer education where, for example, children learn to write by practicing writing. Writing has been shown to be the skill that best predicts college success, recently displacing reading as the best indicator. On a typical test, students are asked to identify what's wrong with underlined words in a passage. Identifying problematic words, helpfully underlined for you, is a far cry from creating an understandable passage oneself.
We agree that assessment has a place in school. Classroom assessments should be given. At the classroom level, testing has meaning for the student and their teacher. For 61 years the Educational Testing Service has created national college placement examinations. Even with all their experience and professionalism, indeed far exceeding that of CSAP testing, ETS tests are not good predictors of school success. Classroom grades remain the best predictor. Grades are based on a variety of student activities evaluated by teachers. College clearly is so much more than filling in the bubbles of a Scantron test.
CSAP testing has led to a scripted, ineffective reading program and the reduction of recess, and has turned teachers into technocrats. If one has any doubt, compare your child's description of school before and after the testing. In District 6, creativity blooms for the month of April when teachers are freed from the yoke of prepping students for the test.
We want teachers to be allowed to be the professionals they once were. They need to be allowed to adapt curriculum to meet individual student needs. We need to humanize and individualize the literacy program for students. If a book or topic resonates with students, teachers should be free to use it. If students are bored and restless, teachers should be able to change topics to renew children's interest. Let's encourage students to seek self-improvement without worrying about their performance negatively affecting the school and the district.
So far, all NCLB has been done is increase the dropout rate, which conservatively is estimated to affect 25 percent of the students. With schools under the gun to improve, we know that some students aren't dropping out so much as being pushed out. One simple way for a school to improve is to encourage struggling students to leave. If we eliminated the competitive spirit of testing, teachers would be empowered to encourage struggling students to stay in school and keep trying.
On the one hand, we have a costly and ineffective program and its accompanying tests. On the other, we have a proposal to allow teachers to use their training and skills. It's time to advise our district of our intelligent choice.
Laura Manuel has a Ph.D. in educational psychology and teaches at Metropolitan State College in Denver. A former police officer, she lives in Greeley with her husband.
Greeley Tribune - Thursday, June 19, 2008