Vail Daily column: Another testing mandate?
March 15, 2016
Well, they're at it again.
Less than a year after the Colorado Legislature passed a compromise bill to roll back student testing in the state, a group of bipartisan legislators is now pushing a bill which would require high school students to pass the same civics test that immigrants must take in order to become naturalized citizens.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with civics education and with students having a firm grasp on the principles of our democratic republic. In fact, I'd say that preparing students to take on their roles as participating citizens is one of the key purposes of public education.
As apple pie and baseball as this proposal sounds, it's yet another example of weak and ineffectual education reform policy on at least two fronts.
First, it rests on the false premise that the combination of testing and punishment results in higher performance. If we learned anything from the roundly criticized and now dismantled federal education law, No Child Left Behind, the hyper-focus on testing may have actually slowed and now reversed academic performance, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Our state and country already test students far more than any other country in the world. There is little, if any, credible evidence that more testing is actually making things better. In fact, we may have some evidence that it's made things a great deal worse.
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Second, our state experienced a huge pushback last spring from students, parents and education advocates about the volume of testing our students were scheduled to take to meet federal and state mandates, in addition to college entrance exams. Now, without hardly letting the ink dry on the bill they passed last session to roll back testing in response to that criticism, our legislature is considering layering on yet another test.
The state already has a social studies test that high schoolers will be taking this spring. This social studies test covers much of the same content as the proposed civics test, so we will be double testing much of the same content. Apparently, some members of the Colorado legislature have never seen a test they do not like!
If the legislature wishes to raise the importance of civics and support our schools in growing students into responsible and informed citizens (indeed, a worthy goal), then they should invest in a quality and engaging civics curriculum and support materials that would be available to every school in the state.
They could also invest in our students by providing an adequate appropriation for our schools to fully staff civics and government education with qualified teachers, ensuring that every Colorado kid has the opportunity to learn about our system of government from a competent and well supported educator.
In other words, they ought to actually make sure every kid has access to a quality civics education. Now, wouldn't that be a radical proposition?
Too often, legislators pass down laws and education reforms that fall squarely on our students, families and educators. So long as someone else is doing the work and is impacted, almost any half-baked reform policy seems like a good idea.
So allow me to throw down the gauntlet for our legislators backing this proposal. I challenge the legislators supporting this effort to take the very same civics test they propose for our students. They should also take the social studies test and see how fun it is to sit for two tests in close succession on much of the same material.
And, what good is a test without an accompanying punishment for failure? Just as our students would not be allowed to complete high school without passing the civics test, I also challenge these legislators to resign their positions in our state's lawmaking body if they can't pass the citizenship test. As a professional and certified Colorado educator, I'll volunteer to administer the test myself.
I'll be waiting by the phone to see how many takers we have on this challenge — I suspect I'll be waiting for a long time.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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