CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) testing is upon us…my 8-year-old’s class alone is scheduled for 16.5 hours of timed tests. After months of researching this exam and its negative implications, I have come to the conclusion that such extended testing is not only cruel, but a...lso a waste of my tax dollars, a poor use of time that could be spent learning, and an activity that returns inconsequential results for my child, Canyon Creek and our district. My child will be opting out of CSAP testing because as a parent, that is my choice.

At this time I would like to share with you what I have learned from the Colorado Department of Education, the Cherry Creek Schools’ Assessment Coordinator, the House Education Committee meeting at our state’s capitol, and the Children’s Action Agenda, a legislative agenda prepared and supported by a coalition of children's organizations and advocates, including the Tennyson Center for Children and the Every Child Matters Education Fund. As a parent of two Canyon Creek students, I would like to see all information that directly affects our children’s education shared openly and honestly with parents by the administration. It is our right and responsibility to make the best decisions for our children. Please continue reading if you are interested in a better education for your children and exercising your rights as an informed parent.

1. The school says: “If your child doesn’t take the CSAP, we won’t have a “snap shot” of how he is doing.”

The TRUTH is: Our kids are prepped all year long primarily for CSAP test subjects. All our kids’ scores tell us is how well they did on this one exam. Conflicting results on state and national standardized tests tell us just how poor the CSAP is as an assessment tool. For example, in 2006 Colorado 4th graders scored at 90% in math on the CSAP (our state exam), but according to assessment at the national level (National Assessment of Educational Progress), they only scored at 39% in math. In reading it was very much the same story; 86% on the CSAP, 37% on the NAEP. (Children’s Action Agenda Outline, p. 21) “Although Colorado uses CSAP data to make critical decisions and judgments, CSAP and McGraw-Hill, test-developer and grader, have never been independently audited or evaluated for validity or reliability.” (Children’s Action Agenda Outline, p. 22) CSAP exams are partly machine-scored, limiting the answers to simple multiple choice solutions that can be generalized to thousands of students; and part of the test is essay questions that are graded by individuals who are not licensed teachers and have little or no teaching experience. Our children’s teachers assess their progress much more accurately and thoroughly through a variety of daily and weekly assessments.

2. The school says: “The CSAP will give your child practice taking standardized tests.”

The TRUTH is: Why do our kids need practice filling in bubbles and for what life experiences does this prepare them? finds that over 755 four-year colleges do not use the SAT I or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor degree applicants

3. The school says: “Children need to focus on reading, writing and math because this is the foundation for all other learning. If they don’t fully grasp these topics, they will not be able to comprehend the others.”

We can all agree that reading, writing, and math are critical skills. The reality is that multiple choice questions are a long way off from assuring that our children are proficient readers. Children should also be exposed to an array of topics early on so that both teachers and parents cultivate the individual talents and abilities of each child. We also understand that children have to love school in order to maximize their full potential, not only as readers, writers, and mathematicians but also as future parents, citizens, and contributing members of society.

4. The school says: “If you opt your child out, our school will lose funding.”

According to Cherry Creek Schools’ Assessment Coordinator, Stephanie Boyd, “Only Title 1 schools are directly affected through NCLB. Canyon Creek is not a Title 1 school. District funding can be affected because of the federal funding, based on NCLB status. However, a district never loses funding based on test scores. Rather the federal government re-directs more of our tax dollars to data consultants, test-preparation curriculum, and after-school testing tutorials.
Schools often fear losing their students to “higher ranking” schools. CSAP testing becomes so critical that some schools will take whatever measures necessary to improve students’ scores. Some schools have taken away recess so the children can focus on improving their scores; others have taken away elective courses. Children have been encouraged to score high with school CSAP rallies and peer-created motivational videos. Schools have even resorted to giving away iPods to encourage participation. OUR CHILDREN ARE NOT TO SERVE THE SCHOOL – THE SCHOOL IS TO SERVE OUR CHILDREN.

5. The school says: “By opting your child out, you are violating the law.”

The TRUTH is: “There is no state or federal law prohibiting a parent from opting their child out of CSAP testing.” (Jo O’Brien, Colorado Dept. of Education) Per Stephanie Boyd, Cherry Creek Schools’ Assessment Coordinator, “All students have a "bubble on the back" filled out - indicating the state of their test booklet.” The state simply provides a code for each student that indicates if they took the test or not, and why not. On the back of each test booklet there is a bubble to be filled in for parental refusal. Your child will not be penalized in any way for opting out of the CSAP. There is no place in the U.S. Constitution or in Colorado Statute that allows for school personnel to supersede the authority of a parent regarding decisions related to their child’s educational assessments.

6. The school says: “If your child is opted out of CSAP testing, his score of -.05 will bring everyone else’s score down, giving us a lower rating than we deserve.”

The TRUTH is: While this used to be the case, a recent bill in the legislature has removed the negative penalty. Current guidelines follow the federal law which do not include non-participating students in summary scores. Then, opting your child out of CSAP testing will not negatively affect your school’s ranking. It should be noted that CCSD hasn’t met the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmark since the NCLB’s inception in 2002. (Rocky Mountain News, 10/10/07) There is something that is more important than our school’s “ranking” and that is our children’s education.

In summary, the CSAP is doing a great disservice to our children by impeding their opportunity to obtain a quality education. While the emphasis in our schools is on testing instead of learning, our tax dollars are being re-directed away from our classrooms where they make the most difference. $50 million dollars each year is spent on CSAP test booklets, preparation, administration and scoring.

We are fortunate to live in a democratic society where the people – that means you and I – have the ability to speak out and change what isn’t working. The CSAP is not working. Please join us on these first steps down the road to better education for our children.

For your convenience, an opt out form has been printed on the back of this letter. Parents, you can exempt your child from this testing regimen until the focus of education returns to our children and not to their scores on a grid. Thank you for speaking out for your children – and mine.

For the children,

Kelley Coffman-Lee, Parent of 3