"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, March 31, 2008

Spending More Money to Make Things Worse

From the Rocky Mountain News:

By Rep. Judy Solano

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Again this year, the taxpayers of Colorado will spend millions on standardized tests to over comply with the underfunded federal mandate of No Child Left Behind.

More than $20 million will be spent on CSAPs this year, with only a fraction of the dollars coming from the feds. That doesn’t count for the tens of thousands of local dollars each school district spends for student- preparation materials, data compilation, lost instruction time and state reporting. The estimated cost of CSAPs to Colorado taxpayers is well more than $50 million.

And yes, we over comply with the federal mandate. Colorado is one of only 14 states that exceed federal requirements. Under the NCLB law, each state must test students annually in grades three through eight and once in high school in reading, math and science. In Colorado, we test three times in high school and tack on an additional writing test.

What are we getting for those extra tests? What is our bang for our CSAP buck? Here are some results: When President Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in 2001 and high-stakes testing began, Colorado’s dropout rate was 2.6 percent across all ethnic and racial groups. Today, our dropout rate has increased to more than 4.5 percent.

Graduation rates have dipped from 82 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in 2006. For minorities, the numbers are even more distressing. Graduation rates among Hispanics dropped 9 percent, to 56.6 percent. For African- Americans, the graduation rate plunged from 74 percent to 63 percent in 2006.

In just four years, the achievement gap between whites and minorities has widened.

CSAP scores have changed very little from year to year. Last year’s test results indicate 70 percent of students who scored unsatisfactorily three years ago remain unsatisfactory today. High school scores can be described as unchanged.

Forty percent of fifth- graders who scored “advanced” on CSAPs in third grade scored “proficient” this year. Are our smart third graders being “dumbed down” as they become fifth graders?

One of the strongest correlations in this data-driven-assessment world we have created is that the higher the population of low-income students, the lower the CSAP scores. Eight of 10 students participating in the free or reduced-price lunch program are enrolled in the bottom 10 percent of schools in terms of performance. The higher the family income, the higher the test scores. Only five of 100 students participating in free or reduced-priced lunch program are enrolled in the top 10 percent of schools.

This is not an excuse; it is a reality. Testing more does not change the results. Equal opportunities, fair funding and effective resources affect learning.

Believing that high-stakes testing will improve learning is like taking the temperature of a sick child and expecting him to get well. Until we are willing to invest in the proven educational remedies, we can expect more of the same. Such things as small class sizes, quality teachers, vocational training and post-secondary opportunities, art, music, technology, before- and after-school programs, preschool, and full-day kindergarten all would be better uses of our money than excess testing.

Authentic assessments, locally driven accountability, and teacher influence have positive impacts on learning. Dependence on one standardized test to measure, capture and quantify human learning is chasing false hope. Human potential can not be measured and trying to do so is a waste of money.

Let’s stop wasteful spending and redirect resources to proven programs.

State Rep. Judy Solano, D-Thornton, spent 29 years as a fifth-grade teacher. She is vice chair of the House Education Committee and the sponsor of two bills dealing with CSAP reform.

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