Teacher suspended for CSAP protest
Aspen Times
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 subjects.

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 testing.

"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 protected.

"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 jcolson@aspentimes.com