Our View: So long, CSAPs
August 13, 2011
Last week the state released what should be the final Colorado Student Assessment Program test results. Count us among those who look forward to the promise of an improved standardized test that could help guide meaningful education reform.
But please forgive us for being skeptical.
State education officials are saying goodbye to the CSAP in favor of a new test — still being developed — that should be ready by 2014. The test, still unnamed, will incorporate new standards such as personal financial literacy, information management and social studies, among others.
Standardized tests for public school students can play an important role in education. They provide a measure of achievement for individual students as well as groups of students across grade levels, schools and districts. Ideally, they also provide a clear picture of where schools need to focus efforts in the classroom.
Unfortunately, standardized tests like the CSAP also can demonstrate much of what is wrong with the public education system in our country. Significant time and resources are spent every year on preparing students for the CSAP, and the test's history showed very little overall improvement in student scores throughout time. If student achievement is the same this year as it was when the CSAP first began years ago, what has been gained?
Here in Routt County, the test results by district became nearly as predictable as the seasons. Steamboat Springs schools regularly scored above the state average in all content areas. In South Routt and Hayden, the results were continually mixed. Some grade levels in some subject areas tested below the state average; some tested above. Every year was a roller-coaster ride, with little evidence of permanent improvement throughout time in any particular subject area or grade level.
Starting next year, Colorado public school students will take the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program, or TCAP. It will largely resemble the CSAP, with the exception of not including questions from old state standards that also won't be part of the new state standards. The TCAP will be administered in 2012 and 2013 before being phased out in favor of the new standardized test.
For that new test to be more meaningful than the CSAP, it must be properly aligned with good standards. And there must be accountability for students, teachers and administrators. Until that happens, we'll remain skeptical that it's just CSAP with a different name.