The Next Test

Manual High School earned extra credit for surviving the end of busing. But can it survive the CSAP?

Which is why the first CSAP testing day is a huge event for Manual.

Irene Meschia, Elvis's biology teacher, says her kids do well in labs but get nervous on tests. Although they know the material, something about the nature of testing -- the silence of it, perhaps, or the pressure to do well -- causes many of her students to tighten up. And there are other flaws to the testing that could affect Manual. Scores of special-education kids will be folded into the rest of the scores. And the test isn't being given in Spanish, even though over two dozen students whose scores will be counted (under state guidelines, anyone who's been in school in Colorado for three consecutive years qualifies) aren't fluent enough in English to take the test in that language.

Manual's faculty members welcome accountability, Nicotera says, but they want the process to be fair. "We're not just trying to cover ourselves," he adds, pointing out that Manual teachers were the first DPS high school teachers to participate in a pilot program that rewards teachers for student performance. "Nobody in their right mind would let themselves be held accountable for something they don't have any control over."

John Johnston
Margaret Horton (left) and Samierah Moran keep the junior class on track.
John Johnston
Margaret Horton (left) and Samierah Moran keep the junior class on track.

Somehow, Manual survives the CSAPs.

The school held its Valentine's Day dance after all, and about a hundred kids attended. Samierah, Margaret and their friends have moved ahead with the talent show, which is on for next Thursday. In the meantime, Samierah has finished Beowulf -- which was definitely better than Shakespeare.

She's still complaining about the rigidity of both her schedule and the administration, which always "introduces new programs that don't work." Manual is "fine the way it is," she says. "I wouldn't want to be bused out, and if they had people bused in, I would have some issues."

Elvis got in hot water for missing a class, and his grandmother wouldn't let him go to the wrestling meet. But at least the CSAP was easy. "I'm pretty sure everybody who tried their hardest did good," he says.

Nancy Sutton is feeling optimistic, too, although she won't know Manual's scores until the end of the school year. More than 90 percent of Manual's tenth graders showed up to take the test, beating the usual attendance rate. And, of 350 students taking the test, only forty missed some part of it. When it was all over, she threw a party for the tenth graders -- food brought in, the pool open, the works. "They're being really sweet about it," she says. "No one complained."

Sutton's school will soldier on. She's determined that Manual will remain part of DPS rather than become a charter school. "We're just gonna dig in," she says. "Over my dead body is anything like that going to happen."

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