Is Kindergarten Too Young to Test?

| February 7, 2014 | 32 Comments
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In light of recent headlines around standardized testing for kindergarteners in Oregon and New York, the growing voice of opposition against bubble tests is gaining steam.

According to the New York Daily News, multiple-choice questions and bubble answer sheets left New York’s four- and five-year-old students feeling “bewildered,” and some in tears. In one Washington Heights school, the standardized tests were cancelled for kindergarteners after 80 percent of parents decided to opt out.

“My feeling about testing kids as young as four is it’s inhumane,” said PTA co-chairwoman Dao Tran in the New York Daily News article. “I can only see it causing stress.”

Taking multiple-choice tests based on scripted, highly academic curriculum is not only developmentally inappropriate for four, five, and six-year-olds, Randi Weingarten and Nancy Carlsson-Paige have protested in a recent Washington Post op-ed, it defies common sense. “The standardized assessments being administered to first-graders and even kindergartners in New York and elsewhere have put this issue in sharp relief,” they wrote. “What is being required of young children is unreasonable, inappropriate and developmentally unsound.”

“It’s irrelevant to how children learn, how they should be learning, and how you should be understanding their learning in the context of development.”

Professor Carlsson-Paige, author of Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids, said the assessments don’t take into account the way young brains are designed to learn. “Young children have a really thrilling and complex way of learning, they’ve been learning since the day they were born,” she said. “We know from decades of research that young children learn actively, fully engaging their bodies and all their senses.”

For kindergarten and early grades, she said, a restricted and didactic curriculum inhibits these natural impulses, and leaves little time for how young children learn best: through hands-on experimentation and play.

Even the National Association for the Education of Young Children, which supports the Common Core, issued a statement of concern regarding how both instruction and assessment will be implemented: “Especially critical is maintaining methods of instruction that include a range of approaches—including the use of play as well as both small- and large-group instruction—that are considered to be developmentally appropriate for young children,” they wrote. “Likewise, approaches to assessing young children and the appropriate use of assessment data will increasingly become concerns as the Common Core moves from design to implementation.”

Of course, it’s important for educators to assess children, Carlsson-Paige said, and understand what they know. But assessment for the youngest should look nothing like a bubble test. “I think in the best world, if we had highly educated and informed teachers, they’d be able to observe children, correct their work, and analyze their work,” she said. “They’d have discussion groups with other teachers, they’d note progressions in children’s behavior.” These kinds of assessments, created by the teachers, inform the teacher of what the child needs, and ways they could promote more learning.

But the assessments in New York in particular aren’t meant to understand what the children know, said Carlsson-Paige: They’re meant to grade the teachers. “These tests are going to be used to evaluate the school and the teachers, they’re not tests being given or designed by teachers,” she said. “A high-stakes test tied to evaluation — you can’t do that without creating a scary school environment, where teachers are forced to implement these standards.”

For now, Carlsson-Paige said plainly that the only thing parents and teachers can do to stem the tide is resist the standards set for the very youngest children, and refuse the tests, as the Washington Heights parents were able to do. “I think that opting out is a really good step, but parents should get together — people should get together and do it in groups,” she said.

Bubble tests for kindergarteners may meet short-term goals, but are actually undermining long-term goals. “Even if your short-term goals look good, you’re going to get high test scores if you drill kids all day long,” she said. “But it’s irrelevant to how children learn, how they should be learning, and how you should be understanding their learning in the context of development. It’s not taking into account that young children learn in completely different ways.”

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  • dgrilly

    “For kindergarten and early grades, she said, a restricted and didactic curriculum inhibits these natural impulses, and leaves little time for how young children learn best: through hands-on experimentation and play.”

    Not JUST kindergarten! This is how all ages best learn- when will we stop trying to make our children into assembly line machines with this constant testing and “quality control”. Educators are not manufacturers and children and teens are not cogs.

    • Boreal Explorer

      Thanks for summing it up. Factory schooling is nauseating when you really think about it. It’s a factor in my choice to not have kids – I can’t afford better schools, they’re only for the rich, and I wouldn’t knowingly put a child through public school in most places in the US.

      • Dave

        Your concept of public schools is pretty flawed. Those of us who teach, have taught, or have raised children in the schools have a better idea. Don’t believe all the hype.

        • Boreal Explorer

          I’ve *been* a child in public school.

          Care to address the issues in the article?

  • Bruce Smith

    Thanks for covering this. It’s encouraging to see people waking up to this travesty, although it’s still upsetting that the question “Is kindergarten too young to test?” even needs to be asked. Testing children this young is outrageous, although it’s the logical extension of industrial/factory education. I’m reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s 2008 TED talk, in which he related the following: “Nine years ago I came across a policy statement, very well-intentioned, which said ‘College
    begins in kindergarten.’ No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t. Kindergarten begins in kindergarten.”

    At Sudbury schools like Alpine Valley (http://alpinevalleyschool.com) we understand this, and research by Peter Gray (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn) and others reinforces the reality that childhood (and not just childhood, I would argue) is for play —
    open-ended, imaginative play through which people master both the world
    around them and their ability to engage with it.

  • Boreal Explorer

    Not only is kindergarten too young for the type of garbage standardized testing which is, really, not at all the best way to facilitate AND quantify learning at any age… but it’s also too young for homework. Yes, homework in kindergarten. What. http://taiganaut.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/homework-in-kindergarten/

    • Wendy

      My son was a very young birthday, so we did a year of wonderful, play-based private kindergarten and then a year of public kindergarten (half day, of course). They sent home homework in public school (on a computer, no less) so we just didn’t do it. My son still scored highest in his class on the first standardized math test in 1st grade, so I guess he was fine without it. Playing is SO ESSENTIAL. What I want to know is, are they going to inform us when they’re testing our kindergarteners, so we can pull our kids out that day?

      • Anne Greer

        It’s illegal in some states for children not to be tested. You pull them out, and they get tested the day they come back.

  • KaylaLee

    I am studying to be a high school teacher, so I don’t have much experience in a kindergarden class. However, I don’t see how teachers can even get children that young to stay still long enough to take a standardized test. Kindergardeners are still learning what school is and how to even act in a classroom setting. They want to play and socialize with their classmates, so I think they benefit more from activities and hands-on learning.

    • Anne Greer

      My 6-yr-old daughter has literal nightmares about being inadequate for kindergarten. She’s guilt-tripped all day long, as far as I can tell.

      Her fine motor skills are significantly above average, and yet she comes home and tells me that she’s the “worst writer in the class” because she has yet to fully master the required D’Nealian handwriting style.

      She does addition and subtraction with numbers up to 20, without manipulatives (like her fingers, or beads, or whatever), and yet she feels bad because she hasn’t mastered writing a complete 100 number chart. When she and I worked on it together (she wrote all the numbers, but I helped her remember the transition from, say, 29 to 30 to 31), her teacher looked at her and said, “Someone helped you with this, didn’t they?”

      She reads at a third-grade level, and that’s the one area her teacher is satisfied with–but she hasn’t mastered trigraphs, and she came home with 5 pages of worksheets on trigraphs on Thursday night.

      She has an entire week of standardized testing in March to look forward to.

      • Boreal Explorer

        As a lot of people point out, the primary effect of this is to produce two things: kids who hate school (the many who don’t happen to be well-adapted to it), and compliant adults (the few who do happen to be well-adapted to it) – “products” of our schools, for business, which is the “primary consumer.” http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-wrongest-sentence-ever-in-ccss.html

  • kdychton

    So the tests aren’t there to understand what the children know “They’re meant to grade the teachers.” But where do these tests go? When a child is doing poorly in later years will these reports be brought up to show that there was a “problem” in kindergarten? Are we sure these tests aren’t going to “label” these children? I find it very scary.

  • gadfly85

    Kindergarten, if I recall correctly, is when we learned the alphabet and how to color inside the lines. Just filling in the tiny bubbles of a multiple choice test would be incredibly difficult, I would think.

    • Kristina Sloan

      It used to be, but not anymore; I have a kindergartener and they’re expected to have spent a year or more in preschool and already know all the stuff we learned in first grade. It’s 1/2 way through the school year and my five year old is reading books, writing book reports and doing addition and subtraction (with one single digit and one double digit number, ex: 10-4=6). Plus an hour of homework per night. To think of adding this sort of testing to the current rigors of kinder is appalling.

      • Anne Greer

        Mine too! Our poor children!

  • Susan Morgan Farber

    In my state of Oregon the test was done within the first few weeks in the school year…it was also done on computers in the lab. Many kids have little hands on computer skills in our Title I school and some of the questions were a bit confusing….not sure how valuable the data will be as many I suspect were guessing at answers…can only be effective in my opinion if done in Sept and then again in June..after obtaining some computer skills and language education.

  • TC

    As a teacher I consistently feel disappointed with the quality of the education that our children are receiving. Schools are so concerned with high test scores they are overlooking the whole reason we are there… to help kids achieve. Not all people develop at the same rate or in the same way. To sit a child down for 7 hours a day and expect them to absorb mass quantities of information, similar to uploading a computer, is setting the child up for failure. We aren’t computers and not very many people learn that way. In order to truly learn, the content of the information needs to speak to you on a personal level. Something that interests me immensely may bore the snot out of you. Kids need to be taught how to teach themselves. If you were told that you had the ability to teach yourself anything, then you were given the skills and tools to do it, think of all the things you could achieve. Just like children decide when they are ready to be potty trained…. they can often give signals they are reading for reading or math.

    • Keri Lamle

      Amazing!

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  • Keri Lamle

    The article portrays an image of Kindergartens filling in test bubbles. Most would agree Kindergarten is too young for this type of testing. But what if the method of assessment is embedded in a educational game. Suddenly, the focus is not “High Stake Testing”. It has become an informative assessment of a students skills. The assessment has been transformed into data driven tools to guide Kindergarten learning. I believe, most would agree this type of assessment is useful and reasonable. As Mary Poppins would say. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down..”

    • Boreal Explorer

      Why is there a need for ‘medicine’ at this age? cf. Finland.

      • Keri Lamle

        I assume you are asking for clarification as to why I feel assessment in Kindergarten is important.
        Well let’s look at some research:

        Kindergarten Assessment is an important tool.
        Susan Bowers, Ph.D., is a professor of early childhood studies at Northern Illinois University, and a child care consultant in the Chicago area.

        In her article: Assessing Young Children: What’s Old, What’s New, and Where Are We Headed?

        She concludes:
        “Review of research indicates assessment techniques, both standardized and informal have been, and will remain, an important tool for early childhood professionals. Assessment methods can be used to screen for disabilities, to assess kindergarten readiness, to assist in developing curriculum and daily activities, to evaluate the effectiveness of a project or a program, and/or to provide feedback to parents. Traditional questions surrounding assessment centered on three key questions. In the future, these questions will continue to be asked, along with many new questions, which accompany our increasingly complex knowledge of child development.”

        And she is not alone research conducted by:
        Witt, J., Elliot, S., Kramer, J. & Gresham, F. (1994) in their article: “Assessment of children: Fundamental methods and practices.” Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark. support the finding of Dr. Bowers.

        I could go on to cite literally hundreds of research studies which would document the need for some sort of formal assessment in Kindergarten, but that was not my intention.

        My goal was to illustrate how formal assessment can be conducted in a variety of ways. Perhaps a game based assessment tool for Kindergarteners would be a preferable method to the fill in the bubble method often employed in standardized testing.

        • Boreal Explorer

          Thanks for the response. I meant “why is there a need to be drilling children with often rote knowledge, and reading, and math, when it’s not done in other countries which go on to have much better overall academic achievement than the United States.”

          To the extent that skills ARE taught in kindergarten, whatever they may be, yes, of course some assessment is needed. My main issues are two: first, with what’s being taught in kindergarten and the need to teach it (and the inevitable losses that occur when limited time and resources are diverted); second, with the methods of assessment. I absolutely agree that any assessment of *anything* at kindergarten age really needs to be designed with the 5-6 year old mind in mind. Obviously multiple choice bubble exams are not going to work.

          There’s an article here about the kindergarten entry assessments in my own state of Oregon: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/06/a-really-scary-headline-about-kindergarteners/

          It’s a good partial illustration of what I’m on about. My girlfriend’s oldest just entered kindergarten, and she wasn’t impressed with the quality/validity of the testing, and is even *less* impressed with the fact that he is getting homework in kindergarten. That, to me, is lunacy, and it’s lunacy that comes at a cost of reducing unstructured play, which is how young children actually learn, and at a cost of teaching them things they do just fine learning later and diverting them from what play teaches them at their age, namely, social skills and how to interact with the environment without getting oneself injured (e.g., don’t lick electrical sockets, etc.)

          • Keri Lamle

            I agree. Recently, I tried to infuse a Kindergarten technology program with some hands on science and a blended learning approach. The opposition I received was unlike anything I was ever encountered.
            It did not matter that the students were learning at an amazing pace or the fact they were enjoying the material, the program was dismissed as not being a “good fit” for the school. My response was I didn’t realize I was teaching the school, I thought I was teaching the students and they are learning.
            In my experience, the best “homework” in Kindergarten should be with the goal of exciting the student’s natural curiosity not pound them with rote instruction. When learning is enjoyable a student’s retention rate of material is significantly increased.

  • Candice Smith

    “so much (homework) to do, so little time”
    These are the reasons kids and teens are distracted, loose attention and interest.. They’re all used up and tired of ‘school’ at early ages…

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  • Dave

    Yes.

  • Lauren Reid

    My name is Lauren Reid and I am an Elementary Education major at the University of South Alabama. I think that the question “Is Kindergarten too young to test?” should not even have to be asked. When children are young, they need activities to open up their mind and get them excited about learning new things; it should not be taking boring bubble tests. Most teachers in today’s world don’t think about bettering the children’s minds and they don’t think about how every child learns in a different way. I think that it is good the parents are standing up and saying “no” to this nonsense. Classrooms need to be more interactive and especially Kindergarten classrooms.

  • Kristi

    I am kindergarten teacher in a medium school district. At the moment, my school district has is trying to decide on moving away from one type of testing to a computer based testing. The district is looking into this testing because it is more cost effective, does not require as much adult support and gives instant feedback. I feel that is it putting students at risk. Why spend more time testing when I can can get the same information from doing activities in the classroom that the students think are fun.
    My co-workers and I are always fighting to “keep kids- kids”. We incorporate as much free choice time as possible to promote social interaction. It is a constant fight to keep our program developmentally appropriate for our students as we can. What sometimes is misunderstood is that the federal or state governments are making the choices for the school districts. If the school district chose not to follow the guidelines, they risk losing federal or state funds. I tell parents that to have things change, we must contact our state and federal representatives. Public school is great when people fight for what is best for kids.

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