This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 14, 2001

February 14, 2001 - CSAP!

My eye lighted on the diagram. I saw a ladder leaning against a house, an angle translated into degrees, a distance measured in feet. A lot of unknowns. A space to work my calculations.

And I froze.

I had, in fact, the first math panic attack I'd had since college trigonometry -- the only college class I ever failed. This is not a memory I cherish.

Where was I? Sitting in the administration building of the Douglas County School District. What was I doing? Taking the 10th grade Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, test.

I think I know why so many parents were invited to come take the test across the state. These days, such tests are called "high stakes." Test results are taken seriously not just for children, but for the institutions that teach them.

I believe we were supposed to conclude that the tests weren't easy. We were supposed to understand that being "proficient" at the CSAP means that you really are very accomplished.

We were also to learn, by direct experience, that performing at a level less than proficient might not necessarily be a disgrace. It might simply indicate two bits of good news.

1. In the year 2001, academic standards are getting tougher.

2. The public now has a new and tool to gauge the effectiveness of one of its most vital institutions -- the public school.

Well, here's my honest appraisal. Both of those are absolutely true. The CSAP is a better test than most. It is capable of giving a far more incisive insight into gaps in student performance.

For the record, I aced the reading and writing part of the test. I really did -- I made not a single mistake. Moreover, I was very aware that it was a better, clearer assessment of skills -- comprehension, grammar, spelling, organization -- than any standardized test I remember taking before. So at the age of 46, I'm pleased to report that these days I might be an A student in 10th grade. Lord knows I wasn't then.

I did pretty badly on the math test -- but only on the trigonometric functions. I got everything else right, after only a little fumbling. Maybe our high school juniors should be held to "proficient" in trig. I pity them.

Well, when I got home I told my wife about my CSAP results. And she told me she'd given our six year old son, Perry, the 4th grade test that morning. The test, or a sample, had come in the morning paper.

Perry did really, really well. Our first grader was "proficient" as a fourth grader. I should point out, I guess, that he's been taught at home these past couple years.

Well, I've thought about this hard, and here's what I think I've concluded.

First, the educational pendulum is swinging away from self-realization and general inquiry. It is swinging back toward structure and specificity. That's fine -- for those who need more structure and specificity. Not all children do, you know.

Second, I am nonetheless a believer in clear standards for achievement. And in general, I applaud the attempt to set those standards higher, and help kids master core content.

Third, my many teacher friends report a trend toward a tremendous narrowing of educational focus. Everything depends on CSAP results in just three areas: reading, writing and 'rithmetic. Those are important subjects. But they are not the ONLY important subjects.

Fourth, I believe we are partners in the education of our young. Parents should read to their children. They should TALK to their children. They should take their children to the library. I have concluded that some parents believe their sole child-rearing responsibility involves the purchase of clothing from Gap.

Teachers should teach well, and strive toward Olympic standards. Finally -- and this seems to be the party too often left out of the equation -- the student has some responsibility, too: to show up, to pay attention, to work hard, to deal with the honest assessment of his or her accomplishments without whining about it. This goes for the parents, too.

The true test of education isn't what happens when the Legislature decides to get tough. It's what happens every day.

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