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March 20, 2009

Working hard or hardly working? Parenting in the time of CSAPs

-8 My son, Nathan just went through his first cycle of CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) tests, the crowing glory of his third grade career. Ah the CSAPs, the gateway drug to other great tests like SATs, MCATs, and getting your driver's license.

A school’s value is based on standardized test scores since they provide insight into student progress and learning. However, in areas where open enrollment is allowed, test scores are a way for parents to determine where they should buy a house or what school to enroll their child in. For charter schools like the one my children attend, CSAP scores are a marketing tool. Great scores = a great school, right? In turn, low or falling scores means that a school may not meet their enrollment goals. This could mean less money to run the charter since education dollars (Per Pupil Revenues) follow the students.

High anxiety

Needless to say, CSAP anxiety among staff and administration was at an all time high in the weeks before testing. First, several letters from the principal were sent home telling parents about the CSAPs. At the parent-teacher conference, Nathan’s teacher gave us a pamphlet on how to prepare our child for the tests. Then more fliers with the same information were sent out in Friday folders. I was surprised that they didn’t hire someone to go around town yelling, “The CSAPs are coming! The CSAPs are coming!”

Nathan told us there was no homework because they were practicing in class for the CSAP, so could he play Wii instead? (I guess so. Didn’t see anything in the pamphlets that said, “No Wii!”) Finally, an automated phone call from the principal came the night before the first testing day asking us to make sure our children got a good night’s sleep and were fed a healthy breakfast in the morning. Goodness, D-Day wasn’t planned this well.

We did our part and talked to the boy about not rushing through the test – his normal behavior with schoolwork – but to take his time and go back and check his answers. We sent him off with a hearty breakfast and a heart felt, “Good luck and do well. We’re proud of you!”

The third grade attention span

When asked how the CSAPs went that day, we realized that our educational system thinks nine-year-olds have short attention spans. However, most parents know that kids can play Wii for hours, so surely the tests would take up most of the day, right? Hardly. The kids took CSAPs for only 60 to 90 minutes, for two days straight, over a series of weeks. During testing days, most of their time was spent doing other things. First, the kids were treated to breakfast at school. Nathan regaled us with tales of yummy sausage and bacon, eggs that smelled fishy, and how he went back three times so he could pig out on five large pancakes. If you give a third grader a pancake, he will do well on a test? I don’t know, but the idea of stuffing yourself before sitting down to a big test didn't seem like the smartest thing to do. Even so, I hope I didn’t have to buy Nathan larger pants after this was all over.

After an hour of CSAP test taking, the children were given an hour and a half of recess in which they played Bakugan and chased the kindergarteners around the playground. Afterwards Nathan ate lunch and attended “specials” (art, music, Spanish or PE), then his class watched movies like Pinocchio until school got out. In addition, even though there were only two days of testing, no homework was assigned for the whole week. No homework means more Wii – Nathan couldn’t believe his luck. This was better than winter vacation – food, movies, lots of recess and hanging out with his friends.

CSAP days ended up being an hour of real work followed by six hours of goofing off, somewhat similar to most jobs. Nice to know that school is preparing them for real life.

Original Rocky Mountain Moms Blog post. Anne-Marie also blogs at A Mama’s Rant, My Readable Feast, The Write Spot, This Mama Cooks! On a Diet, and for Mom Central Food.

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