Teacher suspended for CSAP protest|
March 16, 2006
By John Colson
Spanish instructor refuses to administer test; says
it's unfair to Latinos
The Aspen School District cut the pay and hours of a Spanish
teacher Tuesday after he refused to issue standardized tests because he said
they don't test Latinos fairly.
Aspen Middle School teacher Sam Esmiol said in an e-mail that the Colorado
Student Assessment Program tests "discriminate against Latino students and treat
teachers unfairly." The CSAP tests are designed to gauge student progress in key
District Superintendent Diana Sirko on Wednesday said Esmiol, a first-year
employee, is partially suspended.
Esmiol, 38, said his suspension is for morning test periods only; he continues
to teach regular classes in the afternoon.
"I'm not trying to make a statement against the school district," Esmiol
emphasized during a telephone interview Wednesday. He is, however, trying to
alert the public about what he feels are inequities in the way the state
administers the CSAP tests.
The format of the tests is unfair because "teachers are expected to translate
multiple-choice questions to a group of Spanish-speaking students," he said in
his e-mail. "This is unfair because some students will understand and answer the
question while other students need more time and explanation. Individual
students cannot move at their own pace."
He also said teachers are not adequately prepared to administer the tests.
"Oral translation is subjective," Esmiol said. "Students' test scores are
influenced by the quality of the translation. These tests do not accurately
represent their abilities."
Students in grades 3 through 10 are taking the CSAP tests this week and next.
The federally mandated tests are designed to gauge achievement levels in such
basic subjects as English, mathematics, reading and science.
"The state says everybody must test, no matter what," said Tom Coviello, Aspen
Middle School assistant principal.
Coviello said the testing program provides for "any kind of special needs."
Students who struggle with English get more time. Students with physical
limitations that make it difficult to write get assistance from a teacher who is
trained to "scribe" in such situations.
Esmiol also objects to the way he has been treated since refusing to participate
in the testing.
"The administration has treated me unfairly," he wrote in his e-mail. "They have
implied that I am being lazy.
"I felt that they were trivializing the points I was trying to make."
Esmiol is considering legal action against the school district and the state,
insisting that it's not about money but about a need for public debate on
"I cannot perform a task that I feel is unjust. It infringes on my freedom of
speech and religion," he said in the e-mail.
Sirko, however, said objections to the testing program are not constitutionally
"This is not a First Amendment issue," she said.
The school district's attorney researched the matter, she said, and found that
there are a variety of remedies available to Sirko if a teacher refuses to
administer the tests, including suspension.
Nonetheless, Esmiol said he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union and
the Center for Constitutional Rights. And he said he is also planning to get in
touch with Latino advocacy groups to explore his options.
Sirko said Esmiol's protest is the first of its kind in the Aspen School
District. She said it has come up in other districts but the testing mandate
withstood court challenges.
She said the issue is one that could be discussed, but "this is a state-required
assessment, so it's a serious matter if a person refuses" to take part.
Esmiol was an outdoor education instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership
School for 11 years before taking a job at the middle school.
"I have been told that this affects my potential career [in the district]," he
said. "But it's worth bringing it out in the open ... so that people see what is
happening with the tests."
John Colson's e-mail address is