Jimmy’s Denver Gazette Column | Don’t let school districts hide their failures

Written by on February 5, 2021

Exactly 20 years and one month ago today, we moved to Colorado for my dad’s work. I was a 10-year-old fifth-grader coming to a new state and a new school, yet one thing didn’t change: The existence of standardized tests.

Back at the dawn of the century, though, standardized testing was not as big as it is today. It was that same year (2001) that President George W. Bush joined with U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy to pass the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act.

Intended for “education reform” and to improve student achievement, NCLB further expanded the federal role in education, grew the power of the Department of Education to epic proportions and ramped up the unfunded mandates for standardized testing. In short, NCLB is one of the great legislative failures of the 21st Century.

After the Bush-Kennedy bill became law, and as I advanced through middle and high school, the prevalence of the standardized tests increased. Today, it is abundantly clear that these tests (CSAP when I was a kid, now the CMAS) represent an overwhelming burden upon educators as well as students.

Teachers have felt increasingly compelled to “teach to the test” amidst a one-size-fits-all assessment regime. In a 2020 Colorado Politics column aptly titled “’Teaching to the test’ cheats kids,” I made the case for scaling back and reforming standardized testing. The current testing scheme – and standardized testing itself – is fundamentally flawed, I argued, and it disempowers our incredible educators.

Even so, I absolutely, 100% agree with Gov. Jared Polis that this year, statewide CMAS tests should take place.

Polis spokesman Conor Cahill is on the record this week stating, “The first step to helping our students recover is to understand the gaps that exist across the state…We believe that these critical measurements will help us build back stronger for Colorado’s students.”

I’m not quite sure what “build back stronger” means, but the inclinations of the Polis administration — headed by the founder of a charter school — are right. It’s also fitting with how most Colorado parents feel.

As a Denver Gazette editorial noted Wednesday, “The Keating Research poll, conducted Jan. 5-10…found an overwhelming two thirds of parents surveyed believe it is necessary to conduct a statewide assessment this spring to determine student learning loss. The poll found 62% of Colorado voters in general felt the same way; 25% were opposed.”

Democratic Sen. Jeff Bridges is also right: Standardized testing will indeed, as he put it elsewhere, “give us at least a rough idea of the learning loss we’re seeing across the state. We don’t know how severe that loss is, and we don’t know the geographic distribution. That data will help us make better, more informed decisions about how best to support our students and teachers moving forward.”

That’s the key. Whether standardized testing as we know it is itself a good idea is irrelevant. What matters is the information it can and will provide to parents and voters about how far children have been set back due to school pandemic policies.

Yet many school districts, school boards and the Colorado Education Association disagree. If they want to cry that kids are not adequately prepared to take these tests, then color me sorry, not sorry. It’s your fault, guys.

Yes, that’s right: Any fallout from low test scores is primarily due to a failure of the educational establishment to do its job and ensure in-person learning.

As I wrote in last week’s column, “A striking CDC report published Tuesday in the American Medical Association’s journal concludes, ‘(T)here has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.’ (Numerous studies revealed) “near-nonexistent transmission rates in in-person environments – particularly student-to-staff transmission…”

What’s stunning is that this scientific evidence is nothing new. We already had data and science demonstrating low-risk for school-based spread of COVID-19 as far back as last summer. So, many of us pushed to reopen schools then.

When it comes to K-12 education, Colorado is heavy on local control. We should be: Local communities understand the needs of their children far better than bureaucrats in Denver or D.C. Yet superintendents in many districts still insist on closing schools for in-person learning, particularly middle and high schools, despite undeniable proof of the damage from remote learning – educational and otherwise.

It is astonishing, though not surprising, how many school board members and district administrators — bolstered or pressured by the CEA — are pleading for a pass on testing. Testing that will hold them accountable by showing just how poorly educational achievement and learning quality has become under their failed leadership.

Colorado parents I talk to say enough is enough. They just voted school districts more money, and districts must not escape accountability for their actions.

Let’s test the kids in 2021. Then, let’s shake up the system in 2022.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s February 5 column at Denver Gazette, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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