High-stakes exams loom over schools/ CSAP, federal tests tied to
For more than 75,000 students in El Paso and Teller counties it’s time to go to bed early, eat a healthy breakfast and pack extra No. 2 pencils – the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests are back.
From today through April 11, students in grades 3-10 will take tests in at least one of four subject areas: reading, writing, math or science.
Now in it’s seventh year, many students are used to the exams. Administrators also have come to grips with the yearly ritual.
While they are used to the state’s expectations, some administrators worry about new federal guidelines set by No Child Left Behind, legislation signed into law in 2002.
“It is in effect, but there still are a number of questions about the law that we don’t have answers to,” said Alisabeth Ackerman, assessment director for Academy School District 20. “We don’t yet really understand what its impact is going to be.”
Federal law requires schools test at least 95 percent of the student population.
School officials have been reminding parents for months the tests were coming and to get kids ready and not take them out of school needlessly.
“Every one of our schools has been putting the information in their newsletters for months,” said Maryann Wiggs, executive director for curriculum and instruction in Lewis-Palmer School District 38.
Many schools also have added incentives, such as special school lunches and prize giveaways, in the hope students will attend school on test days.
The more students who take the test on its scheduled day, the fewer students schools will have to work into makeup days before April 11.
The test scores are important because they are factored into the state’s school accountability report cards, which rate schools and measure their progress from year to year.
The ratings range from “excellent” to “unsatisfactory,” and those schools found unsatisfactory have three years to show progress. If they don’t, they face takeover by the state or conversion to charter schools.
Similar penalties apply to schools deemed “needing improvement” under the No Child Left Behind legislation.
The federal requirements for improvement, however, are overwhelming to some administrators. That law requires 100 percent of students score proficient or better in reading and math by 2014.
Schools are required to test at least 95 percent of typical students, as well as students who qualify in special categories, such as special education and English as a Second Language programs.
Schools are required to show they are making progress annually toward the 100 percent goal. If they don’t, they are “needing improvement” and face penalties.
The requirements also demand special education and students who do not speak English as their primary language make progress toward those goals.
“When you look across the district, in every school they’re testing far more than 95 percent of students,” said Diana Sirko, deputy superintendent of instruction for Colorado Springs School District 11.
But when it comes to testing special education or students who don’t speak English, reaching that 95 percent threshold can be a problem.
“It’s not realistic that they could complete all of those tests,” Sirko said. “Some of the students who fall into those categories don’t speak a word of English or are severe needs special education students. How could we expect them to complete even a modified test? “
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