Test Fright, Why We Should All Be Scared of the CSAP
By Aaron “Ukulele Loki” Johnson, Education Professional

I read the directions aloud to the classroom, “when you come to the word STOP, do not go on to the next session. You may begin test one… now.” It’s been six years since I sat in a high-school classroom as a student; now I’m leading one in state testing.

After reading the directions, I calmly sat down, ready to enjoy the silence that overwhelmed our usually bustling classroom. That’s when I realized my stomach was doubled up in knots. I never suffer intestinal distress. What’s going on? Was it something I ate? I asked another teacher to cover for me while I ducked out. Walking down the hall, I couldn’t help but notice the severe and profound silence. The only thing more distinct than the silence was the tension. It was so thick you could eat it with a fork. It was this tension that was eating my gut.

On Tuesday, March 9, schools across the state started the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP). But perhaps you knew that instinctively. Maybe you were sitting in your office when a sudden lurching panic overcame you. Maybe you were in bed one morning when you awoke in a cold sweat. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if antacid sales in the State of Colorado didn’t soar during these two-weeks just from the overflow of anxiety in the atmosphere.

State tests are nothing new. We’ve all been forced to take them. For the most part, they were boring, had nothing to do with our usual curriculum and, seemed generally irrelevant, which they were. But something changed two years ago that made these tests a lot more relevant. And gave us all reason to share in the panic of our students.

Thanks to the Bush endorsed education plan known ironically as “No Child Left Behind” the results of these bizarre and inaccurate tests are now being used to determine school funding. Or rather, these tests are being used as an excuse to pull Federal funds. This is not confused thinking on the part of politicians; this is sinister.

Standardized test results are only one measure of the achievements of our students and they are a poor measure at that. Standardized test results are tallied based on the number of students enrolled in a school – not the number present or testable. There are no adjustments to account for students who do not appear for testing days due to sickness, truancy, or outright protest. Scores also fail to account adequately for students with special needs, including the severely disabled students I’ve worked with – some of whom are non-verbal and physically unable to hold any kind of pencil whatsoever, No. 2 or otherwise. Most importantly, these tests do not measure the full scope of skills essential to a comprehensive education. Under this system, students resemble lab rats instead of creative, diverse thinkers.

Not surprisingly – even our best local schools are failing.
So what’s going on? Is there something wrong with our students? Or is there something wrong with these tests?
Let me say from experience, these kids are sharp, no matter what distorted state test results may show. They’re particularly clever on the topic of testing.

The day before testing began, I was assisting in a Freshman Government class whose teacher was explaining how test results determine future funding.

“It’s important to do your best next week,” she said. “Schools whose students’ fail to meet requirements loose Federal funds.”

There was a confused pause. Then one girl threw her hand up, uttering a perplexed, “wait!”

“So, schools that aren’t doing well get less money? Wouldn’t it make sense to give them more money for books, and computers, and better pay for teachers?”

Wow, I thought. These kids are smart

Another student raised his hand. “Yeah, why would they take money away from schools?”

The teacher replied, “remember when I told you about Republicans and the movement toward privatization? Their idea is that if these schools are failing, they should be replaced by private schools that are run like businesses, competing in the marketplace.”

I watched the students wrestle with the concept.

“But,” sputtered another student, “that’s wrong!”
The teacher replied, “folks, this is a development of the last two years. If you don’t like something in America, what do you do?”

“You blast ‘em!” offered one smart aleck in the back.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not the Democratic way,” the teacher replied calmly. “Any other ideas?”
Another hand went up.


“You vote,” said a student.

“Yeah,” continued the government teacher, “exactly. You vote.”

Unfortunately, most of these kids can’t vote yet. So come November, let’s ditch “No Child Left Behind” and hold accountable the vultures that created it.


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