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Colorado State Representative Judy Solano recently introduced CO HB 12-1049, giving parents the authority to decide if their child should take the TCAP (formerly CSAP) exams, or allow them to be exempt for personal reasons, without negative consequences for the student, the teachers, the school, or the district. This bill reminds me of a conundrum I had years ago...

I remember watching one of my sons, about 8 or 9 years old I think, tell me his stomach hurt one morning just before school. When I woke him up an hour before, he appeared fine. His color was good, his forehead felt normal, and he had eaten the same cereal and milk he had digested many times before. I was about to tell him he could stay home from school, when I remembered why he was suddenly "under the weather".

It was CSAP day-- Colorado Student Assessment Program examinations -- the dreaded day every year my high achieving, very intelligent son became nervous, frightened and sick to his stomach.

I should have remembered. For days, he had been drinking more water than necessary for his health ("My teacher says water hydrates your brain and we have to be well-hydrated before CSAPs" he told me.) We had been to the supermarket for granola bars ("The teacher told us to have carbohydrates in our pocket so our blood sugar doesn't drop suddenly") and later to Walgreens for some gum ("The teacher said chewing helps your brain stay alert and focused"). The night before, he asked if he could have something to help him fall asleep, since he was not tired ("The teacher said we should get plenty of sleep the night before CSAPs." Apparently, he had seen a commercial on television about taking a magic pill for insomnia.) That's where I drew the line. I advised him warm milk would do the trick, and muttered under my breath about the #$%^&# "No Child Left Behind" legislation that created the nightmare of high-stakes standardized testing for children.

The next morning, I was late for a meeting preparing the perfect food pyramid breakfast ("The teacher said...") and running back for a sweater and some extra number two pencils "just in case". Sitting outside the school, I wiped a tear from my son's face. "Don't worry, honey, we'll love you know matter how you do on the stupid test." I told him, "I just don't want you to throw up on your paper, okay?"

Each of my children has a very different personality, so for one of my sons, the change in routine was exciting, and he found the exams pleasantly challenging. With the other two boys, this scenario played out again and again and again. For them, the pressure of being in honors classes in the most competitive school district in the state was already more than enough to handle, and CSAPs meant additional stress. Watching my children freak out each year while preparing for a test that meant less than nothing to me, and one which I thought was a complete and utter waste of time, was maddening.

I remember the first time I decided one of my kids would not participate in the developmentally inappropriate, high-stakes testing. I marched into the elementary school where I frequently volunteered (having a much better idea of where my son was "at" academically than any impersonal test could possibly tell me), and informed the teacher he would not be coming to school on test day.

"I don't believe in high stakes testing for children, and I have read the research," I said. "These tests do not accurately reflect how any child is learning because each child's ability to regurgitate facts on a two-dimensional sheet of paper varies. The tests also do not measure creativity, critical thinking, motivation, persistence, and many different types of aptitude. They only measure how well they have memorized what they've been taught the last few weeks. Not to mention that, but my son's self-worth as a human being, or as a learner, should not be based on how some anonymous person scores him on a worthless exam. I don't believe in these tests, so our family will not participate". (Harruummph!)
The teacher looked sympathetic.
"I certainly understand your position, Mrs. __" (they always called me by my husband's name). "I wish I didn't have to administer this test myself. To be perfectly frank with you..." she continued in hushed tones, "preparing for this test is an enormous waste of our time. I would much rather be working on the things the students are passionate about than teaching them how to properly fill in little shapes with their pencil properly, or lecture them about not being late on test day. Unfortunately, these tests determine an awful lot for our school, and for my job. If your son does not take the test, we get a 'zero'. By keeping your son at home, you punish the entire school. Please don't do that to us, Mrs. ___ . Your kids are smart -- we need your son here."
This lovely young teacher was literally begging. I felt like a heel. Her words haunted me for days. The flattery of "Your kids are smart" was wierdly juxtaposed with "these tests are an enormous waste of time". I wondered what they told parents whose children had developmental disabilities, or for whom a language barrier might affect their scores. I grew even more concerned. I made an appointment to speak with the Principal, who told me essentially the same thing.
"We don't like these tests, either, Mrs. ____, but our hands are tied. If your son stays home, it only hurts the school, and in the end, it hurts our students", he said. "If your son is feeling stressed, there are things we can do to help. He should be eating healthy, getting plenty of sleep...(blah, blah, blah)."
Clearly, there was nothing the school could do, and I didn't want to hurt the school, or the teachers. They were not the problem; they were being victimized just as the students were. Over a number of years, my boys became more accustomed to taking the tests, and the stomach-aches became less frequent. In the older grades, students were rewarded with the next day being a "free day" (which meant Disney movies).

"What a giant waste of precious teaching time", I thought.

Keeping children home from school for personal, political, religious or medical reasons has always been the prerogative for parents in Colorado, provided they attend school a minimum number of days per calendar year. For example, my son's school gave us the option of keeping our children home the day they learned about sexual reproduction in the fifth grade. (We were also given a choice to keep our children at home for an optional "winter celebration" on the last day before winter break, presumably to avoid the possibility another student might say something scandalous like the word "Hanukkah", or accidentally wish someone "Happy Holidays".)

I went to the "reproductive education" parent meetings, read the curriculum, and asked questions.

"This is what some parents think is objectionable? My neighbors keep their kids home so they don't hear words like "breast", "vulva", mitosis, and "gamete". Seriously?"
I tried not to pass judgment. I knew the school was teaching the biology of sexual reproduction, not the values or the politics of sexuality, so I couldn't understand why other parents were making a big deal of it. Still, it was their right, and I respected their concerns, even though they differed from my own.
"Let me get this straight", I wanted to ask. "When my kids were younger and couldn't sleep at night because they wondered if their teacher would still like them, or if they would someday get into college, on tests they took when they were eight years old, and I wanted to keep them home to avoid the inappropriate amount of stress they were being subjected to, I didn't have a choice. But now, I can keep my child home from school simply to avoid a "holiday party" with snowmen, or on the day their teacher might say the word, "menstruation". Are you kidding me?
Don't even get me started about the day I was given an option to keep my children at home, because their homeroom class planned on playing a ten-minute video clip of the President of the United States telling them to "work hard and have a good year at school"!

My kids are older now, but I still feel passionate about this issue. Please support HB 12-1049. In Colorado, parents have always had the choice to keep their students at home for important personal, religious, medical or family reasons, as long as the students are getting the required number of hours of education in each calendar year. If snowmen-phobic parents are allowed to keep their children home one day a year without repercussions, families like yours should have the same right.

Originally posted to njcronk on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 01:20 AM PST.

Also republished by Education Alternatives and Community Spotlight.


Do you believe parents should have the right to keep their children home from standardized tests?

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Comment Preferences

  •  I wish I could rec this multiple times. (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, mungley, Nance, Ms Citizen, chimene, Matt Z

    I am republishing with Education Alternatives.

    We need more folks like you to be passionate about this issue! Thank you so much for writing this. If you ever want to write more, our group is begging for more active writers. I will be sending you an invitation.

  •  What a great idea (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, mungley, Nance, ybruti, chimene, ColoTim, Matt Z

    I hope other states follow suit. Thanks for the diary; this is the first I've heard of an initiative like this, although every year at testing time our local newspapers seem to run a story about a family facing this dilemma. A year or two ago I read a story about developmentally kids being forced to try to answer questions beyond their ability that just about broke my heart.

    And what ever happened to the reforming NCLB thing? Aren't all children supposed to be perfect in about (checking watch) a year and a half now?

  •  I am going to the capitol (8+ / 0-)

    tomorrow to spend the day with my House Rep, Dan Pabon. He offered once to let any of us come spend the day with him on committees and on the floor. I am excited and nervous because I am a very passionate person. I have to behave so I can learn more about the process.

    I will ask about this bill and Dan's stance on it. I have two children in the DPS system and this issue has always been a burr in my butt. Thank you for writing about it.

    You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. -Mae West

    by COwoman on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 05:05:24 AM PST

  •  CO's well oiled RW talk radio locals will trash it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mungley, ColoTim

    (led by broncos, buffs station KOA) as a liberal plot to be opposed by all pro home school wingnut republicans

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and partisan lying by broadcasting sports on Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 07:13:43 AM PST

    •  Not just KOA (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      But specifically Mike Rosen who for some reason has a serious hard-on about Teachers making too much money. All the teachers I know at my kids schools would make a lot more money in another profession... and they (teachers) wouldn't be part of the local Volunteer Fire Department that protects our house - that's "socialism..."

      Full Disclosure: I ran an "Oddessy of the mind" group at middle school once....

      Guess he had "other priorities" and was elsewhere, like Cheney, when civics was being taught.......

      I still remember the 2004 "election" where the Denver Post editorial board wrote a long editorial enumerating all the problems with GW BUsh so far and then said "But, we endorse GW Bush", a clear and obvious reflection of the publisher (who was also head of the AP) saying "you can publish your opinion all you want, but the Denver Post WILL endorse GW Bush". End of story. It was pathetic. A colassal failure of journalism.

      And the Denver Post keeps printing his (Rosen) "opinion" columns since the demise of the Rocky Mountain News ( a reliable RW paper of the rednecks, thus the Denver Post could appear more liberal, even though the publisher William Dean Singleton was himself pretty far right. Did you know Joe Coors (yes, that Coors) was a founder of the heritage Foundation??? We have a lot of wingnuts in Colorado, not all of them based in Colorado Springs) .

      Why I canceled the Post last year and told them why....No news is better than fake news...and I don't have to read Cal Thomas and John Andrews and Charles Krauthammer and spoil my breakfast....

      Without geometry, life is pointless. And blues harmonica players suck.

      by blindcynic on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 04:46:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  rosen got alan berg's spot, in away so did limbaug (0+ / 0-)

        i imagine the coors hated berg at koa. i heard he was going national but was assassinated - then limbaugh took that national mantle.

        rosen is detestable, pitiful, and powerful selling all the RW ayn randian BS. i'm not in co anymore but i used to hear him undoing the work of thousands of progressives and dems in co just because he had that huge microphone and the left ignored him. i don't get that 'pleasure' anymore, but others like him are everywhere.

        This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and partisan lying by broadcasting sports on Limbaugh radio stations.

        by certainot on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 05:28:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I used to teach middle school math (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, Ms Citizen, chimene, ColoTim, Matt Z

    I (along with every teacher I knew) considered the CSAPs to be a tremendous waste of time; the only thing they told me was which students took the test seriously.

    Every year, we lost a few weeks of instructional time to the silly thing.

  •  Great diary. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ybruti, Ms Citizen

    My daughter has never really cared about STAR testing here in CA.
    Much like your older son, it has been a break from routine.

    My son starts STAR testing this year. In just 6 weeks or so.

    The good news is that we are allowed to see some sample questions in advance now.

    The tests are always worded strangely and use terminology not used in the classroom.

    I have a high scoring nephew who is like your other kids. He has been told he has to do well.
    His parents tell him he can do however he likes. The test is a test of the school, not of him.

    It's a stupid process and a waste of time.

    Basically it's bashing square pegs into round holes for a good portion of the student population.

    Please Vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2012.

    by mungley on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 07:23:17 AM PST

    •  the worst part about STAR tests (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mungley, ColoTim, joe wobblie

      is that the feedback doesn't reach the teachers till the following fall, after students have already been assigned to classes.

      It's not that I think the results should be the only criterion in determining class placement (because not all students take the STAR test seriously, and they shouldn't necessarily have to)... it's just that I want to be sure that if a child is not grasping some key concepts, that feedback should get back to the teacher, students, and parents really quickly, so they can do something to address the learning gap.

      Otherwise, STAR tests end up being irrelevant for students, unjustly used to assess teachers' performance, and a mechanism to justify shutting down schools to make way for a for-profit charter school.

      •  Right. Testing at the beginning of the year (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ms Citizen

        then again at the end. That way we could see what I kid has learned and where we need to focus curriculum.

        We always get out results in the mail in August.

        Please Vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2012.

        by mungley on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 12:30:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Basically it's bashing square pegs into round hole (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      My kids actually got pretty good education in school here in Colorado, before CSAP.

      But, we probably spent $10,000 ferrying my son to a GT program on the front range that didn't exist in the mountains. No School buses. He was finally happy with a group of his peers.

      And he elected to go to a Well- known Public front range high school that had IB (International Baccalaurate), and enjoyed his friendships "down on the flatlands".

      He and my daughter are both very successful at what they do, and Colorado schools were good for that (Both CU-Boulder Graduates)....and testing had NOTHING to do with that - they succeeded on their own because that's what we expected of them and tried to lead by example....

      Without geometry, life is pointless. And blues harmonica players suck.

      by blindcynic on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 05:01:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I had to go to bat for my 12yr old (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ms Citizen, chimene, ColoTim, Abelia

    Daughter when she was threatened with failing health class because she kept arguing with her teacher over whether or not abortion causes breast cancer, which was the official position of the health curriculum in jeffco schools. And we always gave our kids the option of refusing to take the CSAP's. It infuriates me, the amount of teaching to the test, and wasted instructional time.

  •  I wrote about my kids (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    COwoman, Ms Citizen, chimene, ColoTim, Matt Z

    and the CSAPs back in 2007: Carrying the Water for NCLB.

    We tried opting Elder Son out of the CSAPS; the pressure to conform was tremendous, so much so that it was easier on him, and us, to just give in and take the tests. He knew they weren't worth squat, and that's how much effort he gave them, much to the schools' chagrin.

    It was weirder with Younger Son, who has high functioning autism. When he was in elementary school, test anxiety would totally freak him out -- so we said no to the CSAPS. But, he wanted to be a part of what the rest of the kids were doing, so the school hit on what was for them a win-win -- they gave our son the test for "intellectually challenged" kids, which was far too simple for him, but gave the school great scores for their special ed stats.

    After a couple of years he balked at that -- he knew it wasn't a "real" test. So then he took the CSAPs with accommodations -- extra time, and in the library away from the rest of the class. Which kind of defeated the idea that he wanted to be like the other kids.

    Now, in high school, he just does the damned things.

    But I will note that, since I wrote my diary in 2007 DPS has decided that school in mid-August in buildings with no air conditioning, wasn't working out so well. So the school year will begin in the last week of August next year. Why they just couldn't go back to the week after Labor Day is beyond me.

    A little tender courage at that rare right instant, and things might well have turned out differently -- Ken Kesey

    by Frankenoid on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 08:10:55 AM PST

  •  I love the standardized tests (0+ / 0-)

    they show teachers, administrators, and anyone else who wants to know just how students at any particular school are doing. Good way to judge how effective teaching is. There's so much crap in teaching and schools these days it's great there is some measure to tell if kids are actually being taught to read, write, add, subtract, and so on.

    Schools need to fullfil their most basic mission.

    I hope they become standardized across the US.

    "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 08:46:39 AM PST

  •  Why would an assessment test be high stake (0+ / 0-)

    for the kid? Isn't this a NO-stake test for the kid? It's a high stake test for the school & the teacher, but it has zero consequence for the kid. In fact I don't even think individual scores are released to the kids.

    In fact that is one of the criticisms of the test- that some kids would throw the test just for fun because there is no reason for them to work hard on it.

    The CO bill is a problem. It is a way for the state to game the test. As you said- they are already using different subtle ways to game the test (encouraging the high scoring kids to come to school, and who knows what they are telling the low performing kids). Now you are going to give them another way to game the test.

    This test is a state level test. Instead of figuring out how to game their own test, I think Judy Salano should invest more time into making the test more relevant and meaningful. Rigging your own assessment test is the worst kind of conceit anyone could think up.

    •  Scores ARE released to parents (4+ / 0-)

      My daughter took the CSAP for the first time last year (3rd grade). We got copies of all of her scores, some at the end of the year, and the rest at the beginning of this year. They were used to group kids into small groups within the classroom for math and literacy instruction.

      We also give the message to our daughter, who is bright and tends to be a worrier, that this is a test of her school, not a test of her. But she doesn't know how to turn off her ingrained drive to do well on everything she is asked. It is a stressful two weeks.

      This year, it's particularly frustrating, because we have family visiting for a week from out of town during the test period. If the test weren't going on, I would take our daughter out of school for a day while they are here so we can have a family outing to the mountains together. She hasn't seen her cousins in two or three years, and these family memories are so important -- much more important than taking the darn test! But our school makes a huge deal out of everyone being there for every day of testing. They ask us to not schedule doctors' visits, trips, and to otherwise avoid missing school for all but the most dire of reasons.

    •  Many students actually do care (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      njcronk, ColoTim, joe wobblie

      and want to feel that they did well on the test, whether or not it has any tangible consequences for them. They don't like that feeling of not doing well. They want to make their teachers and parents proud of them.

      That's what creates stress for some students... all in the name of assessing teachers and schools.

    •  Gaming the test is a legitimate concern, IMHO. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      icemilkcoffee, mrkvica, ColoTim

      I hadn't thought of that. The best scenario, then, is to throw them out all together.

      In regard to the high-stakes component: my children were keenly aware of how important these tests were to their schools and to the teacher. They may not have understood exactly what would happen, but all of them could sense how important they were. How could they not? The teachers were constantly telling them it was VERY IMPORTANT they come to school on CSAP day, even if they were a little sick. The Principals were stressed, the staff was stressed -- even the volunteers were stressed.

      I've spent a lot of time in public schools over the last twenty years as a volunteer, and I have never known a single child who would NOT want to perform well on a standardized test. All of them assume they will be measured by it somehow, even if they are told they will not be.

      •  Maybe the teachers are putting too much pressure (0+ / 0-)

        on the kids? If the kid is stressed to the point of getting sick to the stocmach, it must be because somebody else is pressuring him. Maybe your son has been told that the whole class relies on him to show up and do well.

        This is kind of like a corollary of the 'Uncertainty Principle' in physics where the act of measuring something causes the measured object to react in such a way as to make your measurement impossible. We have low stake tests ( in the form of the NAEP tests), and they work as intended. But as soon as we turn them into high stake tests (state tests) then suddenly everyone starts playing games, and now you're no longer measuring what you're supposed to be measuring.

        I don't know what the answer is here. I support testing in the abstract, but it's gotta be done better than it is now.

        •  Teachers put pressure on the kids because the (0+ / 0-)

          schools and government put pressure on the schools to achieve. If the kids don't succeed, it could mean the loss of funding and/or closing of the schools and loss of jobs. It's critical to the teacher that the kids succeed.

        •  Principals of two high schools in my (0+ / 0-)

          California city made of point of saying at a public meeting that their students took the high school exit test very seriously. Usually a large number of students simply make random marks on such a test in order to be finished as quickly as possible, but the principals were obviously relieved that this was not the case on the high school exit test.

          The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

          by ybruti on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 06:47:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  FL's FCAT test (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The FCAT test in FL is a high stakes test for students for several reasons.

      First and foremost is that if they don't pass it in 3rd grade they can't progress to the next grade.

      If they don't pass it in 10th grade they can take it two more times but if they don't pass by graduation time they get a "Certificate of completion" that is basically worthless...No diploma.

      Schools also use it to determine who needs to be in the "extra help" classes and at our middle school if you end up with double math or double language arts or reading you don't get to take the fun electives.

    •  Not any more (0+ / 0-)

      I remember the "standardized tests" being low-stakes when I was a kid. In our state/ schools our state test is used as one of the measures to decide on placement in classes (remedial, grade-level, advanced) and sometimes for GT placement. Kids and parents receive the scores for their child and averages for the school, district, and state.

    •  problem is (0+ / 0-)

      teaching to the test, which is of dubious quality.
      I'm (was) a jeffco parent. The evil of the test is that it distracted teaching from real stuff to approved CSAP answers.

      My kids avoided that by taking AP classes, even some community collage classes, avoiding the High school in their senior year and taking their education into their own hands.

      And we talked a lot at dinner about what they were learning. They took debate, model UN, Odessy of the mind and learned to be critical thinkers.

      They are both mid-twenties, successful at what they do, some credit due to the school system and the Colorado University system, most credit due to being innovative, determined, relentless learners.

      We, my wife and I, taught them that, not the school system. School was just somewhere they went while we weren't there Child care with buses.

      Without geometry, life is pointless. And blues harmonica players suck.

      by blindcynic on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 07:53:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh, and Varsity Soccer (0+ / 0-)

        That was good, mostly because it was managed by the history teacher, who my son respected greatly, and still visits when he's in town (my son) to remind him of how good he was (the teacher) ....he does the same to his university professors, both his sister and he had the same international affairs professor, but he didn't (the professor) connect them at first because they had different last names...long story...but that guy is probably why my son is in SF in Afganistan, because he (the professor) was Special Forces himself.....another long story...

        So, do teachers make a difference? You betcha!

        Without geometry, life is pointless. And blues harmonica players suck.

        by blindcynic on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 08:04:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I just asked my youngest son (in high school) (0+ / 0-)

      "When you were younger, who put pressure on you for CSAPS, or did you put the pressure on yourself?"

      He said the teachers and the Principal put a lot of pressure on the students. He said it has gotten worse as he's gotten older, too. Just this year, he said, the Principal told the kids colleges look at a student's CSAP scores. He said students who do not perform well are also required to spend extra hours working with teachers. He and the other students see it as punishment. (Not sure if that is how the school intends it to be.)

  •  I love the paragraph about your (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ms Citizen, slouchsock

    conscientious little son trying to do everything his teacher told him - "my teacher says" - to prepare for the test, and you making his government-approved breakfast on the dreaded day.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 09:58:32 AM PST

  •  Yet another example (5+ / 0-)

    of the Republican agenda of having the government control our lives, as long as they control the government.

    The standard line for Republicans seeking votes is that they want the government out of our lives. Yet when they get into office, they enact measure after measure for the government to control the most private matters in our lives.

    There are dozens of cases in which what the Repubs say is exactly the opposite of what they do. This, has been one of them . . .

    "... there is no humane way to rule people against their will." Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

    by Noziglia on Tue Feb 07, 2012 at 10:33:38 AM PST

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