Teacher’s CSAP argument familiar to principal
An Aspen Middle School teacher’s protest against standardized testing is not the first time educators have objected to such measures.Nearly a decade ago Sam Esmiol’s boss, Aspen Middle School Principal Paula Canning, was part of a group of teachers who filed a formal protest with the Colorado Department of Education over the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests, which were then relatively new.Esmiol, a Spanish teacher at Aspen Middle School, was partially suspended this week for refusing to give two students the CSAP tests, which are being administered to students in grades 3 through 10 this week and next.Esmiol said he feels the CSAP tests discriminate against Latino students who have a poor command of English. And he said they are difficult for teachers to administer to Spanish-speaking kids.He was suspended only for the mornings of this week and next week, when the tests are being given, but he is still teaching regular classes in the afternoon. Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko said Thursday that he will return to full-time teaching status once the testing period is over.Canning, who has been principal at Aspen Middle School for three years, had similar arguments against the test when she was working elsewhere in the state in the late 1990s, when the CSAP tests got started. The tests are intended to measure students’ academic progress in English language skills, mathematics and science.At the time, Canning said, students preparing for the CSAPs received questions culled from previous tests for studying. The problem, Canning said, was that Spanish-speaking students in the third and fourth grades were not getting the same study questions in Spanish, though the tests were in their native language.That, Canning said, was the basis of a complaint filed with the Colorado Department of Education. The matter ended up in the hands of the federal Office for Civil Rights, which “did not decide in our favor,” Canning said.
She said the Office for Civil Rights concluded that, in providing Spanish-language tests for grades 3 and 4, Colorado was going above and beyond its duty and was not obligated to provide tests in foreign languages. So the state could not be forced to provide Spanish-speaking students with the study questions.But at the same time, Canning said, a five-state consortium that included Colorado was working on a new testing program that would be equitable for any student who did not speak English.”The problem with translating tests into Spanish is there are still 72 other languages out there,” Canning said, referring to the state’s official list of languages in its schools.”We were looking for a solution,” she said, to the question of, “how to test children who don’t speak English yet.”Although she left her district and was no longer involved in the consortium’s work, she said, the results of that work are a new test known as Colorado English Language Acquisition tests, which are designed for students who have a rudimentary command of English, regardless of what their native language is.At Aspen Middle, Canning said, English Language Learners teacher Kate Cook administered a pilot CELA testing program to two of the lower grades.Cook said the tests are written in the most basic English, what she called “sheltered English,” and that the tests rely on visual aids to help students understand questions and respond to them.Canning said the school district has not yet decided whether to continue with the CELA tests.Cook said several Aspen School District teachers and an administrator had recently undergone training to give the CELA tests again this spring.”I think we really want to do what’s best for kids,” Canning said, adding that she feels no one in education wants “to throw them [non-English speakers] into a classroom to sink or swim.”A kind of one-size test does not fit all the children,” she said.”We want to find out what the children know,” she said.
Woody Creek physicist, educator and philanthropist George Stranahan on Thursday offered to help a local teacher fight what he believes are inequities in the way Colorado schools administer standardized tests.Esmiol, a Spanish teacher at Aspen Middle School, was partially suspended with reduced pay this week after he refused to administer Colorado Student Assessment Program tests to two students at the school.
He said the tests discriminate against Spanish-speaking students because of the way they are administered. He also argued that the testing requirements treat teachers unfairly because teachers must verbally translate the tests for Spanish-speaking students, a process he feels puts those students at a disadvantage.Stranahan, who ran the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek for years and was involved in the CSAP testing program, said he wants to help Esmiol, who has indicated he may take legal action to ensure his concerns are addressed. Esmiol, 38, has said he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, and he plans to contact Colorado Latino advocacy organizations to explore his legal options.”I’m actually going to try to drum up some support for the guy,” Stranahan said Thursday. “I do admire what he did. It was the right thing.”Stranahan said he agrees that the CSAP tests are not “fair and just” to Spanish-speaking students or others whose native language is not English.”I agree that they do the best they can under the circumstances,” he said of school officials required to administer the tests by the state and by the federal No Child Left Behind act. “But it still is not fair and just. And here’s a guy willing to risk his job.”Stranahan said citizens, when facing laws they do not consider equitable, have a duty to protest those laws as expressed by political philosophers “going all the way back to Thoreau … our responsibility is civil disobedience.”He recalled that he did not file a formal protest against the tests when he was running the Community School. But, he said, he would advise parents concerned about the effectiveness of the CSAP tests to simply opt out. State law allows parents to instruct the school not to test their children, which means the student receives a “zero” score for the test.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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