Category: children


Why CSAP Sucks
By Christian Piatt

(Originally published in PULP)

If the ridiculous school supply and uniform bills weren’t enough to signal the beginning of school, there are plenty of other signs that the academic season is upon us: nervous-looking kids; slightly euphoric parents; bulging backpacks and the telltale crossing guards posted at strategic locations around town.

We also know it’s back-to-school time since we’re finally getting a glimpse of the CSAP test results from last year. The CSAPs – which stands for “Colorado Student Assessment Program” – is given to most students on most grades throughout the state, supposedly to track student progress. A love child of George Bush and his No Child Left Behind legislation, the CSAPs and similar testing batteries across the nation have drawn mixed reviews.

In general, the sentiment toward the tests is negative, but the problem is most folks agree we should have some sort of accountability for student achievement; the problem is that no one seems to have a clue about how to make the tests better.

For starters, the tests historically have compared apples to oranges, holding one third-grade class’ scores up against the third-graders that follow them the next year and so on from grade to grade. But aside from any kids who failed and had to repeat a grade, these are entirely different students, so it’s impossible to get much useful data this way.

Recently, the bureaucrats and administrators have wised up at least a little, and they’re now tracking cohorts. This means we get to see data from one group of students as they progress throughout their academic career. But this still has huge flaws, particularly in a highly mobile community like Pueblo. In some schools, where the mobility rate exceeds 100 percent, most of theses aren’t the same kids from beginning of year to end, let alone from one year to the next.

A more reasonable solution is to implement a longitudinal system that follows each individual students from kindergarten to graduation. This would require more consistency from state to state, but it’s really the only way to use the tests to tell if a particular student is where they need to be or not.

Another issue is the test’s sensitivity, on two levels. First, though some strides have been made to try and make the tests culturally sensitive, there are still issues surrounding the assumption of prior knowledge, much of which comes from a middle class, primarily Anglo background. Simply put, middle class kids have seen and done more than poorer kids, which gives them an advantage over kids who may have never left their home town.

A second sensitivity problem is more technical, primarily regarding the higher and lower extremes of the scale. In general, all we hear about is whether or not a kid performs at or above the “proficient” level, which constitutes two of the four possible quartiles within which scores can fall. Each school can see scores in a bit more detail, but for a child who began as a non-English speaker, or as functionally illiterate, a gain of a year or more may not even create a blip on the score chart. Some concessions are made for “special needs” students, but this hardly addresses the fundamental flaw, which is a test that is akin to taking a chainsaw into surgery.

Finally, there’s the problem of what the tests actually measure. The testing protocols, which are timed, try to tell if a child has mastered a set of skills necessary to solve a problem, whether it is a math proof or answers at the end of a reading passage. For the kids who get the right answers, all is well, but for the rest, the tests really tell us nothing.

For example, say a child misses all five questions at the end of a story passage. Though we can see they got all the wrong answers, did they fail because they didn’t understand the story? Maybe they misunderstood the questions? Or perhaps the directions for what to do in the first place? Did they read too slowly to even get to the questions? Did they have so many words they could not decode in the story that they lost the story’s point? Did they lack the vocabulary to comprehend three dozen words in the first few paragraphs?

We have no idea.

That’s because these are achievement tests, which do just that: measure overall achievement. If, however, we really wanted to mind some valuable data from this effort, we should be conducting diagnostic assessments. This not only tells you where a child does well, but where, across the board, they are weak. This helps teachers target the low points so that the entire end-result can come up, and so that some problems for which kids may compensate early in their school careers don’t suddenly blow up in their faces come junior high or high school.

Some are calling for the whole testing concept to be trashed, which would be a mistake. The problem isn’t that we’re testing our kids; it’s that we don’t know how or why. For now, though, the CSAPs and their counterparts in others states score well below proficient.

My new podcast, “All Or Not At All,” is now posted in two parts. Check it out.

This episode is a two-part interview with Josh Einsohn, Hollywood casting director and social activist. He founded www.AllOrNotAtAll.org in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California.

We talk about life in tinesltown, civil rights, how his faith informed his worldview and what it’s like growing up a gay jewish kid in the Texas Bible Belt.

You can find this and other episodes at http://christianpiatt.podbean.com, find a player on my main site at www.christianpiatt.com, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by searching “Christian Piatt” in the iTunes store.

I posted part two of the Big Fat Jesus Head podcast series last night. you can catch it on iTunes and other podcatchers of course, or go right to it with this link:

http://christianpiatt.podbean.com/

Also, if you have not already signed up for my new free monthly E-Zine, “Faith Portals,” just go to www.christianpiatt.com and drop your email in the box at the top of the home page.

Christian

My wife recently gave birth to our second child, baby Zoe, and she is awesome! She’s very laid-back, sleeps six to eight hours a night and eats like a champ.

Now, while I like to believe some of this is just her natural disposition, combined with our experience in raising our first kid, there are some things that make life much easier, which some folks still may not know about. So here’s a list of my top ten must-haves for newborns:

Glycerin laxatives: Infant digestive systems are constantly changing, especially if you supplement breast milk with formula. although our baby Zoe was a very happy kid, she naturally got awfully grouchy when she got all “backed up.” for our first son, we used little glycerin suppositories, and these things work like a charm! Just make sure you have a diaper handy, because their little GI systems may kick in within seconds. All doctors and nurses we’ve checked with assure us this is a safe way to relieve constipation for infants, and it certainly makes for happier babies and parents!

Simethicone: Unlike an adult (or my five-year-old son, for that matter) who can willingly let a burp rip any time we feel a little bloated, babies sometimes need a little help. Simethicone, whose name-brand equivalent is Mylicon, is a safe way to help break down those painful bubbles and keep them from passing through into the lower intestinal tract. Because the drops are not absorbed into the baby’s system, they’re safe for little ones.

Happiest Baby on the Block: There are tons of baby how-to books out there, and no new parent has the time to read much,but this is the ONE book you need to know about. Why? First of all ,the strategies for soothing a baby, and for helping them sleep well and on their own really do work, as I can attest with two kids now. Second, much of what the book imparts is counter-intuitive, so it’s something we have to learn. If you got nothing other than how to perform the “Five S’s” with your baby, this book is worth it’s weight in gold.

A Swaddling Blanket: Though my personal favorite by a country mile is the Miracle Blanket, there are lots of swaddling blankets to choose from. You can even use any regular blanket, if you know how to wrap your baby up right (see book reference above!). A lot of people think it would be uncomfortable to be wrapped up so tight, but remember that babies spent nine months folded up on top of themselves in the womb, so that’s what feels familiar to them. This, combined with the other “S’s” taught in Mr. Karp’s book noted above, has made a huge difference for us.

Time: One of the biggest regrets I have with my first son is anxiously awaiting each new stage of his development. And while this sort of anticipation is natural, you can miss out on some amazing moments with your child, while waiting for them to grow up. Carve out plenty of time every day just to gaze into your baby’s eyes, to play with them on the floor, to read them books, sing them songs, and generally enjoy every minute.

While it may seem hard in the moment, this time in your life truly will be gone before you know it. Enjoy it all!

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