Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Testing Kindergartners

Kindergarten Entrance Exam (image from Flickr, by emrank)

It is already crazy how much we test high school students. In addition to the usual internal quizzes and exams used by teachers to assess whether their students are grasping the concepts and skills being taught in their classes, there are increasing numbers of high stakes standardized state and federal exams like No Child Left Behind and high school exit exams.

The teacher-initiated exams generally take up less than a class period and are a useful self-check of learning and teaching. The high stakes exams, on the other hand, take up days or weeks of instructional time and have little or no benefit to students or teachers. They are almost entirely a manifestation of right-wing paranoia that teachers are spending instructional time teaching communism and the homosexual lifestyle to children instead of the 3 R’s and thus need some sort of tool (regardless of whether it works) to hold them accountable for teaching what really matters (bubbling in multiple choice answers to math problems and vocabulary questions).

In reality, student test scores are a measure of what students know, not how they learned it, and are therefore meaningless as an accountability tool. The high stakes test scores correlate far more strongly with students’ socioeconomic backgrounds than with their teachers’ skill.

Of course the testing mania is also terrible for children. High stakes tests are extremely stressful for students. Their teachers and administrators need them to perform well so their schools do not get closed down, converted to charters or have to fire everyone. Even when not intended, the stress and anxiety of the adults is often passed on to the children, who want to make their teachers and parents happy and do well on the tests. The tests themselves take away instructional time that could be used for real teaching and learning, rather than data collection. Furthermore, the high stakes involved compels many schools and districts to slash even more instructional time and replace it with test preparation. Consequently, many districts no longer offer science, art, music or physical education.

There is also a question of age-appropriateness. Are K-3rd graders really capable of reading and understanding multiple choice questions and accurately bubbling in their answers? And is it fair to the kids to be put under this kind of pressure and have song-, play- and inquiry-based learning replaced by rote memorization, drills and testing? Yet, if a district is requiring teacher evaluations to be based on these tests, then even kindergarteners would have to take the tests so that kindergarten teachers would face the same level of pseudoscientific scrutiny as their colleagues.

Unfortunately, more and more school districts are testing earlier and more often. reports that at least 25 states now require at least one formal assessment during kindergarten, while many local school districts now implement their own tests starting just a few weeks into the academic year. The Obama administration’s Race to the Top program has offered $500 million competitive grants to promote early childhood education. In order to win these grants, though, states must pledge to assess all kindergarteners. 

No comments:

Post a Comment