Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kindergarten Round Up: It’s Not What It Used To Be

by Kathleen Jeskey

Last year, Oregon implemented a sort of kindergarten entrance exam: an assessment designed to determine each childs readiness for kindergarten. One small part of the assessment consists of a one minute test on the childs ability to identify approximately 65 letter symbols by name or sound. When three reporters from , none of the three were able to complete more than 50 of the 65 in the time allotted. Their confidence as adults and writers seemed to be unshaken by this experience, as they were okay with it being published in the newspaper.  

Im worried. Lots of kids start kindergarten next year and Im not sure theyre all quite as mature and self assured as newspaper reporters. The news that they arent ready for kindergarten on the very first day of school (let alone on track for college and career) might be a little daunting.  And Im not worrying by myself. about what all this readiness testing means, not only for kindergarten but for college and career. 

I have a grandson who starts kindergarten this fall. My grandson has great self confidence. This is a kid who lives in the country and collects eggs from under live chickens. He plays outside and runs around with two enormous German shepherds, each of which probably outweigh him by double. He sleeps in a tree house sometimes. But as a teacher who has seen what happens when kids fail assessments, Im not sure even this little superheros self esteem will survive the gauntlet of tests hes about to be subjected to. Im even less sure his love of school and reading and learning will survive. Again, .

My daughter and son-in-law have done much to instill self confidence in this little guy. They allow him to try things, to fail, and to try again. They give help when he needs it, unlike what will happen in the state kindergarten assessment. Teachers are not allowed to help and answer questions during the administration of a standardized test. It is standardized, with standardized responses that administrators of the assessment (aka your childrens teachers) are allowed to respond to questions with. In fact, administrators must sign a document stating they will follow all the regulations outlined for administering the assessment or risk disciplinary action up to and including the loss of their teaching license. This is the same .

I know a lot of parents are considering opting their children out of standardized testing, including the kindergarten assessment (see Oregon Opt Your Kindergartener Now--September 2014 Facebook page ). These are parents who dont tend to let their little kids try things that might hurt them, like driving a car. As in the case of  driving, these parents consider the assessments potentially damaging at this point in their childs life and better saved for a time when they have had a chance to develop skills and maturity. A number of groups dedicated to the education of young children feel the same. Parent Child Preschools Organization, an organization of over 60 preschools in Oregon and Washington sent a letter to all parents participating in their preschool programs at the end of last year stating that the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment is not a good thing for children entering kindergarten. You can find that letter : (Click on Oregon Kindergarten Assessment.)  The Alliance for Childhood is not only worried about giving our youngest students standardized tests,  

But theres a lot of pressure. I have a friend whod like to opt her child out of testing, but shes worried about doing it. She knows that there are schools that are suffering because they dont have very good test scores: schools that have large concentrations of poor, minority or non-English speaking students, who typically dont score as well on standardized tests as the kids at her mostly white, all English speaking, middle class school do. She thinks the tests dont mean much and she really wants to help stop the unfair practices that are being used to bring about privatization, closing public schools and opening in their place for profit charters, in many of Americas cities. The problem is, she was a good student herself and she wants to follow the school rules. She worries the school may tell her that if she opts her child out, it will hurt her childs school, maybe lower its state ranking. Her school has a very good state ranking. Their school community is very proud of that. She doesnt want to have the people at her school upset with her. Besides, she thinks her child will probably pass anyway and if not, her kid has plenty of self esteem and wont be affected by this one little test.

Lots of parents will feel this pressure. My hope is that they will consider all the data that is now being collected on their children at a level far above that of the local school, beginning on their childs first day of kindergarten. My hope is that they will consider asking questions like Who is using this data? and Where is this data stored? and Can I get access to my childs data that is stored from the state at any time, now or in the future? You can learn more about data privacy concerns and .

I also hope that parents who arent worried about their childrens self esteem will choose to stand in solidarity with those parents whose childrens self worth is being damaged when they do not pass the tests. I hope that will stand in solidarity with parents of children who struggle to pass a standardized test: children with disabilities, children who are not yet proficient in English, children against whom the test is culturally biased, or children who live in poverty. .  

I hope that parents who want to maintain the standing of their school in the community stand in solidarity with those parents who live in neighborhoods that have a high concentration of immigrant families or children who live in poverty, whose schools will always struggle to get a high rating if that rating is based on scores on a standardized test. In many areas of the country, those childrens neighborhood schools are being closed based on standardized test scores.I hope that they will stand in solidarity with the children whose self esteem and skills are not in tact when they first arrive at school due to neglect or abuse at home.

My hope is that they know that these tests are not designed for the majority of students to do well on. The test many kids will be taking starting in third grade this coming school year are among Oregons students.  I wonder ?

But back to kindergarten.

Kindergarten teachers are professionals who can assess children in a kind and sensitive manner without having their responses scripted. While our state and federal government may have an interest in a well educated populace and a responsibility to ensure equity in our schools, it is ultimately the parents who have the right to make decisions about what and how their children learn. This is  what real school choice would consist of: letting parents whose children attend their local public school choose, in a democratic fashion, how that school is run. We should let parents decide whether they would prefer their child to have a standardized education or a humanized education. Parents should decide whether they want a kindergarten classroom designed around experiential learning and research on child development or and reportable data that proven to have little to no effect on educational outcomes. 

Parents should not feel pressured or bullied by their school to participate in standardized testing. The state shouldnt be pressuring and bullying schools and teachers to participate in standardized testing. 

Since I dont teach kindergarten, I wanted to include the voice of someone whos taught kindergarten for many years.  She doesnt like the the tests nor the requirement that they be given right away.  She says that she learned through experience that it was better to wait until a couple weeks into the school year to do any kind of formal assessment with her students. About the quality of the new assessments she says, I hate the whole thing as it is a waste of my teacher time and in my opinion, the data is not valid due to how poorly the questions are set up and scored.  And the behavior piece is another whole kettle of fish. Many years ago, she gave her own assessments at that first parent/child meeting but learned through experience that this was not a good idea: I found that students were shy and afraid the first few days, especially some of my Latino students, and often wouldn't talk.  As a result the information was often incorrect.  It wasn't they didn't know their colors, they just weren't confident enough to talk to you. The final straw for me was when (my son) started kinder. He is now 16!  We went for a pre-k meeting with the teacher and at that meeting she did her beginning of kinder screening.  My late bloomer didn't know his ABCs. All he wanted to do was build with Legos and blocks (go figure for a 5 year old). He didn't write his name, but had an amazing vocabulary etc. etc.  At the end of the meeting I felt shamed about what my kid didn't know and that this teacher didn't see any of his strengths and school hadn't even started yet!!  I swore I would not make another parent or child feel like that starting kinder, their first school experience.  That was when I moved all my assessing a couple of weeks into the year and used the beginning of school meeting to talk to the parent about their child's strengths, concerns, any info I should know.   Now we are back to creating the negative interaction I swore to avoid.  UGH!   

All this testing isnt good for our little ones. Lets stop it.