Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Why standardized testing in our schools SUCK

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Why CSAP Sucks

By Christian Piatt


(Originally published in PULP)

If the ridiculous school supply and uniform bills weren’t enough to signal the beginning of school, there are plenty of other signs that the academic season is upon us: nervous-looking kids; slightly euphoric parents; bulging backpacks and the telltale crossing guards posted at strategic locations around town.


We also know it’s back-to-school time since we’re finally getting a glimpse of the CSAP test results from last year. The CSAPs – which stands for “Colorado Student Assessment Program” – is given to most students on most grades throughout the state, supposedly to track student progress. A love child of George Bush and his No Child Left Behind legislation, the CSAPs and similar testing batteries across the nation have drawn mixed reviews.


In general, the sentiment toward the tests is negative, but the problem is most folks agree we should have some sort of accountability for student achievement; the problem is that no one seems to have a clue about how to make the tests better.


For starters, the tests historically have compared apples to oranges, holding one third-grade class’ scores up against the third-graders that follow them the next year and so on from grade to grade. But aside from any kids who failed and had to repeat a grade, these are entirely different students, so it’s impossible to get much useful data this way.


Recently, the bureaucrats and administrators have wised up at least a little, and they’re now tracking cohorts. This means we get to see data from one group of students as they progress throughout their academic career. But this still has huge flaws, particularly in a highly mobile community like Pueblo. In some schools, where the mobility rate exceeds 100 percent, most of theses aren’t the same kids from beginning of year to end, let alone from one year to the next.


A more reasonable solution is to implement a longitudinal system that follows each individual students from kindergarten to graduation. This would require more consistency from state to state, but it’s really the only way to use the tests to tell if a particular student is where they need to be or not. 


Another issue is the test’s sensitivity, on two levels. First, though some strides have been made to try and make the tests culturally sensitive, there are still issues surrounding the assumption of prior knowledge, much of which comes from a middle class, primarily Anglo background. Simply put, middle class kids have seen and done more than poorer kids, which gives them an advantage over kids who may have never left their home town.


A second sensitivity problem is more technical, primarily regarding the higher and lower extremes of the scale. In general, all we hear about is whether or not a kid performs at or above the “proficient” level, which constitutes two of the four possible quartiles within which scores can fall. Each school can see scores in a bit more detail, but for a child who began as a non-English speaker, or as functionally illiterate, a gain of a year or more may not even create a blip on the score chart. Some concessions are made for “special needs” students, but this hardly addresses the fundamental flaw, which is a test that is akin to taking a chainsaw into surgery.


Finally, there’s the problem of what the tests actually measure. The testing protocols, which are timed, try to tell if a child has mastered a set of skills necessary to solve a problem, whether it is a math proof or answers at the end of a reading passage. For the kids who get the right answers, all is well, but for the rest, the tests really tell us nothing.


For example, say a child misses all five questions at the end of a story passage. Though we can see they got all the wrong answers, did they fail because they didn’t understand the story? Maybe they misunderstood the questions? Or perhaps the directions for what to do in the first place? Did they read too slowly to even get to the questions? Did they have so many words they could not decode in the story that they lost the story’s point? Did they lack the vocabulary to comprehend three dozen words in the first few paragraphs?


We have no idea.


That’s because these are achievement tests, which do just that: measure overall achievement. If, however, we really wanted to mind some valuable data from this effort, we should be conducting diagnostic assessments. This not only tells you where a child does well, but where, across the board, they are weak. This helps teachers target the low points so that the entire end-result can come up, and so that some problems for which kids may compensate early in their school careers don’t suddenly blow up in their faces come junior high or high school.


Some are calling for the whole testing concept to be trashed, which would be a mistake. The problem isn’t that we’re testing our kids; it’s that we don’t know how or why. For now, though, the CSAPs and their counterparts in others states score well below proficient. 

Two new webinars, open for registration

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

My first webinar (online workshop) on “how to use Facebook as a ministry tool) was great fun and well-received. since then I’ve gotten several requests to host this workshop again, so it’s back along with an exciting webinar on how to select a literary agent an, ultimately, how to get published!

If you want to learn more about the events, go to, or email me directly at


Using Facebook as a Ministry Tool

Wednesday, Sept. 30th, 1pm (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0” social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the  walls.

From “Writer” to Agented and Published “Author”
(w/ Lit. Agent Anita Kushen)

Tuesday, Oct 6th 11am (MST)

Join the conversation with Author Christian Piatt and Literary Agent Anita Kushen about what it takes to move your passion for writing to the next level. Learn valuable information like how to find and select a literary agent, and how to become a published author.

My new BANNED QUESTIONS book series

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

Great news! Chalice Press has approved the first two titles for my proposed BANNED QUESTIONS book series.

The first two titles are:



These are both due out in 2011, and I am currently working on the first book about the Bible.

I have a new Facebook Group where we can discuss these topics, generate ideas for upcoming titles, and where you can propose questions you’d like to see in the books.


I look forward to your input as this exciting new series takes shape.

Christian Piatt

A city is what it eats – PULP NewSpin

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

A city is what it eats – PULP NewSpin

By Christian Piatt

You can tell a lot about a place by looking at its people. There are certain things one will notice walking around town – particularly about hairstyles and wardrobe selections that seem to say, “only in Pueblo.”

But there’s another characteristic that’s a lot more disturbing; we’re fat.

A recent nationwide survey found that, once again, Colorado is the healthiest state in the county. And once again, Pueblo did little, if anything, to contribute to that. We remark about feeling as if we’re an island set adrift by the rest of the state here in Pueblo sometimes, but then something like this comes along to show us just how out of touch we really are.

And the disconnect literally can be a killer.

I spoke with Cathy Dehn, the LiveWell Pueblo Project Coordinator for Pueblo County, by phone recently about the obesity problem in Pueblo, and about what’s being done to address it.

So why does Pueblo stand alone in being so pervasively overweight in such a healthy state, and with so many natural resources seemingly at our disposal. One clear connection is poverty. Historically, when a community has a lower median income, the residents weigh more, generally due to the fact that cheaper food often isn’t the healthiest for us. But there’s more going on than just that.

We’re a sedentary community. Although we have the mountains nearby, a fantastic reservoir and some pretty decent trails around town, we don’t exercise as much as other Colorado communities. Part of this, I think, is because in the past, we haven’t had to. If you perform back-breaking work all day long tending to crops or on the line at the steel mill, you burn enough calories that working out is superfluous. So it’s not a part of the culture. But as jobs have become more automated, we’ve become less active, with no history of extracurricular activity beyond high school sports to fill the void.

Finally, there’s the matter of regional diet, which is related to the manual labor culture described above. If you’re performing hard physical labor all day, you need food that will stick to your ribs, with plenty of calories, protein and even fat to sustain you until the workday is done. And although we’ve reduced our overall expenditure of calories in an average day, the diet and portion sizes have not adjusted accordingly.

I spoke with Cathy Dehn, the LiveWell Pueblo Project Coordinator for Pueblo County by phone recently about these issues and what is being done about it.

We’re trying to slowly change the culture,” she says. “What’s happened is people are less physically active and not eating as healthy. By giving opportunities and exposure to fresh fruits, vegetables and opportunities for activity, we’re taking small steps in a longer-range goal.”

Asked if she’s seen progress toward the goal of reducing obesity in Pueblo in the several years the government has been trying to intervene, she was frank. “We haven’t yet made an impact on obesity stat,” she says, alluding to the deep cultural systems they find themselves up against. “We’re just now scratching the surface.”

All due credit to the county for trying, but the fact is you can lead a person to a treadmill, but you can’t make them walk.

For five years, we benefitted from a federal grant that funded our Steps to a Healthier Pueblo initiative. Unfortunately, the grant was not renewed, but the effects of the program remain throughout town. Most efforts focused on training schools, workplaces and health care providers about how best to address the issue in their own environments.

There are other examples of programs put into place that now have been picked up and continued by local partnerships, like the riverwalk steps program, which was started through the Steps grant, but which now is sustained by community partnerships, including the HARP Authority.

Other efforts include research, planning and publicity about increasing the walkability and bikeability of our county. Since some do not have the means to drive out to the mountains or the reservoir, we have to bring opportunities for more activity right to the neighborhoods. There are also programs emphasizing diabetes prevention, tobacco use reduction and ongoing clinics for healthcare providers.

If there’s a true frontline in the battle of the bulge, though, it’s in the schools. Decades ago, when public schools struggled to make ends meet, partnerships were forged with private vending and other foodservice companies to bring in packaged food for sale, with a portion of the revenues returning to the school coffers. Ironically, the sale of sodas, sugary snacks and even meals prepared by fast food joints, helped subsidize the athletic programs.

Now, we’re seeing the generations-long effects of such choices, but we’re so dependent on the revenues these contracts create that we’re not sure how to wean ourselves off. Unfortunately, it’s taking federal intervention in the form of phase-out plans for vending machines and fast food contracts to work our way out of the mire we created.

Fat kids become fat adults, and generally, they raise more fat kids. If we’re going to ever get the upper hand in this war, it will hinge on the battles fought for the health of our children. And the consequences reach far beyond the stigma of Pueblo as a community behind the times. Our health care services and costs suffer as a result, as does the economy as a whole.

One of the biggest challenges I see is getting economic development groups like the Chambers of Commerce and PEDCO actively on board. The problem is, they have a conflict of interest; their own members benefit from things like the school vending contracts and restaurants purveying massive amounts of comfort food we don’t need.

So what’s it going to be? Will we continue to limp along, playing the role of state whipping boy, or will we take responsibility as a community to whip our flabby asses into shape?

Originally published in PULP.

E-registration for my webinars is now active

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I’ve had some questions about how to register for the online workshops – or webinars – I’m offering this month. Well, I have good news!

As of today, I have online registration available. You can click on any of the titles below to go directly to the event registration, and you can use any major credit card. In the future I hope to add Paypal Express Checkout, but we’ll start with this. You can also visit my website for more detailed workshop descriptions.

All webinars are $20 (though it will increase to $25 per session after July), and will last between 60 and 90 minutes. Registration is limited to 15 people per session, so be sure to reserve your spot as soon as you can. If you have questions about these webinars, if you have another topic you’d like for me to cover or if you’d like to participate in one of the events listed below on an alternate date, email me and let me know.

Podcasting 101
Tuesday July 21, 12 Noon (MST)

What is podcasting? How do I do it? Do I even need to? What can it be used for? Get an introduction to podcasting, including how to set up your own podcast, ways to promote it and content ideas for your episodes.

Blogging 101
Wednesday July 22, 10 AM (MST)

Learn how to blog, what it can do, and how to best promote your blog for maximum exposure.

Using Facebook as a ministry tool
Thursday July 23, 1 PM (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0″ social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the walls.

Webinars to grow your church brain

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I’ve had a number of requests for web-based workshops – or webinars – on various topics from blogging, facebook and podcasting, all as tools for ministry. I’ve finally set some dates up, so check out the info below and let me know ASAP which classes you’re interested in so I can reserve your spot.

Webinar Training Sessions
Click here to sign up now!

The following web-based training courses (webinars) are being offered. All courses are $20 and will last between 60 and 90 minutes.

Each session is limited to fifteen participants, so sign up early to confirm your spot in the training.

Using Facebook as a ministry tool
Tuesday July 7, 10 AM (MST) or
Thursday July 23, 1 PM (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0” social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the  walls.

Podcasting 101
Wednesday July 8, 10 AM (MST) or
Tuesday July 21, 12 Noon (MST)

What is podcasting? How do I do it? Do I even need to? What can it be used for? Get an introduction to podcasting, including how to set up your own podcast, ways to promote it and content ideas for your episodes.

Blogging 101
Thursday July 9, 11 AM (MST) or
Wednesday July 22, 10 AM (MST)

Learn how to blog, what it can do, and how to best promote your blog for maximum exposure.

Want to participate? Click on any of the blue links above, or email me at and I’ll send you payment information.

After payment clears, your space is reserved and I’ll send you everything you need to log in to the seminar.

Wolfram Alpha may change the world

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Wolfram Alpha may change the world

By christianpiatt

I came across this site, sent to me by a friend today, and I’m still reeling from the potential is suggests.

Basically, imagine the volume of information contained in Google, but add to that the ability to manipulate and compute / slice up the information any way you can imagine. Their database set is still pretty basic relative to all the info in the world, though it’s already pretty amazing.

Check out the introductory video and see for yourself.

Interested in your thoughts.

NewSpin column – April PULP

Saturday, April 25th, 2009


Christian Piatt


Originally published in PULP Magazine

In the spirit of April Fool’s Day, we are encouraged to write something out of character. For me, in this column, that would require me to write something complementary about local politics.

I feel the same way about this as I used to feel when my mom tried to get me to eat green beans. Maybe I’ll just hide my column under the table and hope the dog eats it.

Seriously, I am pretty stoked about the prospects—which I think are actually very real and achievable—of Pueblo becoming the Green Energy capital of the West. People were excited when Vestas announced they were coming to town to build one of the world’s largest wind tower plants, mostly because it meant good jobs.

We greenies, on the other hand, were excited for a whole different reason. The idea that the very ethos upon which our community has subsisted for decades could change in the very near future is such a big concept that I’m dumbfounded more people aren’t talking about it. 

Add to this that there is news afloat that we may also be the beneficiaries of one of the largest solar energy arrays ever built—enough to power every home in Pueblo county and then some—pushes us even closer. The fact that President Obama signed his new energy bill in Colorado speaks to our prospects as a Green state.

Leaning upon the steel industry to keep us afloat has yielded mixed results, but there are several benefits to retooling now, while we have the chance. First, our nation’s thirst for energy does not drop at nearly the rate that the demand for steel does when times are hard. Second, unlike steel, wind and solar are renewable, meaning they can continue producing indefinitely. Finally, there’s a good deal of money in the stimulus bill for infrastructure to encourage Green development like this, which means we might be able to get our workforce newly trained on the Fed’s dollar.

The possibility that Pueblo, of all places, could become a net-zero community (one that produces at least as much energy as it consumes) should have every citizen in our county limits chomping at the proverbial bit. It should, at the very least, be the final motivation we need to implement a county-wide recycling program, to suggest to the greater public that we actually believe in this Green Energy stuff, and we’re not just in it for the money.

Okay, enough positivity. On to Pueblo City Schools Superintendent Covington. If there’s any validity to the myth that Pueblo has a self-esteem issue, it’s reinforced by opportunists like Covington who, in about a year, was almost lured away to Louisiana, having used Pueblo as a convenient stepping stone to further his career.

Never mind that he’s set a multi-year plan into motion that he has no intention of seeing through. And never mind that would have left us holding the tab for a budget deficit in the millions. What’s worse is the message it sends to our children, which is to get what you can, when and where you can, and that long-term commitment takes a back seat to personal gain.

Though he has removed his name from consideration in Baton Rouge, much of the potential damage already has been gone. He knows, as do we know, that if or when the next best thing comes along, his bags are already packed and waiting by the door.