Opinion: Colorado schools cancel learning
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Since the 2001 passage of the federal law known as No Child Left Behind, standardized tests have come to dominate school curriculums and calendars. Educational standards and classroom activities no longer resemble anything today’s adults experienced as students.
My son was one of the first guinea pigs in this nationwide experiment. CSAP testing began for him in the third grade. For several days each year, teaching and learning was put on hold as math, reading and writing skills were evaluated with grueling exams comparably stressful to college finals.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, it turned out that the tests weren’t really so much about students as their teachers. It was pounded into the heads of 8-year-old students that they were responsible for their teachers’ continued employment. If the kids didn’t perform well enough on their tests, their teachers could be fired.
Before I could ask him how his first day of testing had gone, my third-grader returned home from school only to vomit immediately after stepping foot in our home. He was devastated by his performance on the test and certain that his beloved teacher would lose her job because he had failed her.
At that time, opting out of the tests wasn’t an option for most families. We were told that test participation and performance impacted school funding. Refusal to participate counted as a zero in calculations of a school’s performance.
After years of test-taking, it finally looked like schools had a way of demonstrating student progress. We were provided with colorful charts and tables illustrating our children’s progress over the years. Apparently, none of that mattered though, and a new testing method has just been introduced.
This year, students across the country are taking PARCC tests. The tests last for several hours and even days for each subject. Since the tests are administered on computers, which are still too scarce in our schools, not all students can take the test at the same time. While kids in one grade are testing, students in the other grades stay home.
The fourth quarter of the school year began last week for Mesa County Valley District 51 students. With PARCC testing beginning March 10, high-school students will have a week off from classes, followed by six days for learning before their two-week spring vacation. They’ll return for a whopping 15 consecutive days of instruction before they have another week off for more PARCC testing. From there, students will attend school for another three days with two days off before they begin the final push in which they will attend classes or take finals for eight days in a row before summer vacation.
All of that leaves 32 days for students to learn one-fourth of the material for their classes. With many students completing year-long classes in a semester with “block scheduling,” some must learn half their material in this quarter of virtually non-existent learning opportunities.
The dismay expressed by my daughter, a high school sophomore, about all of this is understandable. She is taking four Advanced Placement (AP) classes for which she can earn college credits. Perhaps some college-level classes can be completed successfully if a student misses nearly a quarter of their classes, but her college level statistics, biology, world history, and computer science classes really do require instruction and class time.
Besides squandering students’ and teachers’ time, the new tests aren’t even necessarily relevant to what students are doing this year. My daughter would be tested on a math class she completed last year, and we won’t learn the results until next year.
School Board President Greg Mikolai has compared PARCC testing to an autopsy, as it shows us nothing current about students. Mikolai and parents across the country are opting their students out of these tests with the belief that if enough of us take a stand, we can change the system.
Our current system is denying our children the right to a quality education and wasting their time. I’m opting my daughter out of testing with the understanding that if she learns anything at all during her days out of school, her time will have been better spent.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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