Dear Bill and Melinda,
I wrote “What sober person gives standardized tests to a kindergartner? Ever meet a 5-year-old?” – Part 1 to give parents of five year olds the beginning of some insight into what is happening because of your corporate reforms behind our closed doors. Here, in Part 2, I will discuss exactly what my testing schedule looks like in my kindergarten classroom. We know parents in our schools of poverty love their children as much as you love yours. We know they have a high interest in their children’s education too. I begin with an important question to you.
Our parents in schools of poverty are highly interested, but why are you? What brings you, Melinda, Arne Duncan, and “the state” to suddenly taking an interest in early childhood education? Could it be the untapped billions of profit in testing Pre-schoolers and kindergartners?
If you were actually interested in helping struggling early learners, you may have done your homework. Have any of you consulted any early childhood experts along the way about the implications of Common Core and standardized testing? Evidence shows you did not, and instead it shows that they come out with a “tough critique” against your reforms. What exactly are your goals for early childhood – pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children? Here is what you say on the Gates Foundation website:
“The foundation has set an ambitious national goal in education: to graduate all students in the United States ready for success in college.”
Two pages from the Gates Foundation website sound like they are written from two different books. This page sounds all whole-child, developmentally appropriate, and touchy-feely — as does the propaganda video I have included. But what does this whole child approach really translate to when you attach the strings of high stakes testing inside of our classrooms?
The second page is all about the standards, testing, and the intimidation of teacher evaluations which are ultimately tied to student test scores.
“The foundation has set an ambitious national goal in education: to graduate all students in the United States ready for success in college.” Hmmm… let’s talk about that. Your foundation (I repeat… “YOUR foundation is setting an ambitious national goal in education“??? But according to Arne Duncan, “nothing could be further from the truth”. In a recent interview tweeted out as #AskArne, Secretary Duncan claimed you do not have a seat at the education policy table.
This page shows that you have high stakes strings attached to your goals… and by the way… our district kindergarten classrooms can’t afford those lovely drums in the picture because we have to pay out millions for your “strings-attached-tests” and Common Core.
To boost student achievement, Washington State has adopted the following important policies and programs:
- Quality standards for early learning and kindergarten readiness that help parents, early learning providers, and teachers understand how well prepared children are for school.
(My note: Your WaKIDS TSGAT is not helping children and teachers. Instead it is taking precious time and resources away from the children we already know are at risk. Provide them with more teachers, smaller class sizes, medical care, counseling, tutoring/wraparound services, food, clothing, shelter, books, libraries, instead of testing. Provide their parents with parenting classes and job training instead.)
- The Common Core State Standards, ensuring Washington’s K-12 students are fully prepared for success in college and careers.
(My note: There is zero evidence that the untested corporate written – not professional teacher written – Common Core State Standards will improve student learning, nor prepare anyone for college/careers. In fact, the only evidence proves 70% of all students fail the CCSS tests. How will this help them prepare for college and careers when they fail to even graduate high school?)
- A new teacher and principal evaluation program to give our state’s teachers and leaders ways to improve their practice and serve students better.
(My note: There is no evidence that tying teacher and principal evaluations to student test scores improves student learning. There is evidence that this poisonous practice creates a #StackRanking system abandoned by Microsoft, but you insist it be used to label even 5 year old children as failures, deny them high school graduation, retain them from grade 3 on, fire teachers, principals, and close public schools to charterize them for profits.)
- High-quality public charter schools to improve educational opportunities, particularly for those who struggle to learn.
(My note: Charter schools have been proven time and time again not to improve learning any more than traditional public schools. Many charter schools have been linked to corruption. Charter schools have been proven to re-segregate, cull, and “counsel out” the very children who are at risk. Charter schools are “exclusionary” vs “inclusive” and create a “separate but unequal” tiered education system. Your financial and political support is about profit and culling, not improving learning for struggling students.)
Let’s talk about the impacts that are caused by those high stakes strings you’ve attached to your grant money and education policies: It’s been a particularly stressful year for my kindergartners and for me as a kindergarten teacher. This stress comes from the terrible increase of testing in our kindergarten classrooms, most of the responsibility for which can be traced directly back to you and Melinda. As a public school teacher, I am mandated to comply with many top-down education reform policies by the state, district, and building supervisors. These testing mandates are increasing at a rapid, unleashed pace. Stephen Krashen and many others have warned us that Common Core will increase testing by more than 20 times current amounts. Parents, do you want your 5 year olds to endure an increase of 20 times the amount of testing? Already the shear amount of testing is inappropriate. See below:
Here is an outline of my current testing/assessment schedule for my classroom, Full Day Integrated Kindergarten 2013-14:
1. Teaching Strategies Gold Assessment Tool (TSGAT)– TSGAT is actually a non-standardized test – non-standardized because teachers are required to come up with their own assessments to collect the standardized data. TSGAT is mandated by state funded pre-schools and full-day kindergarten programs in Washington State to be administered at the beginning of the year, measuring 19 different objectives per child. *Note: Many other states are forced to comply with measuring all 38 objectives per child. These assessments are required by the state to be completed/data entered by the last day in October. All assessments must be given 1:1 (1 teacher per student), data entered on TSGAT website which is shared by the state and Wa State Department of Early Learning, and several others belonging to the coalition. Data shared is very personal. Parents should have been notified of data sharing, but have not. Parents have not signed permission to share this data, typically. These assessment took 8 hours of data entry, 2 hours of training, and 3 full weeks of testing children for 3 hours per day at the beginning of the year. Two days were used to interview parents and students in our classrooms. This “home connection” time was valuable and ought to be extended. Most of the testing that is “whole child” is wasted as the time demands of the narrowed curriculum of Common Core do not allow for extended whole child instruction.
Costs here do not include the data tracking software programs and per child data tracking. See WA state licensing here. The numbers of teachers and students mandated to participate in this testing is increasing rapidly. Soon, “waivers from WaKIDS implementation will no longer be available.”
See below as taken from OSPI:2. DIBELS – Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills – Online standardized test mandated by our district, used nationally – at a cost of approximately $50 per student, Minimum assessment times required: Beginning of Year (BOY), Middle of Year (MOY), End of Year (EOY) with “Progress Monitoring” to be administered bi-weekly for children who are scored “intensive” and monthly for children who are scored “strategic”. DIBELS testing my entire class 1:1 takes one day each – three times per year – plus approximately 1 hour biweekly for Progress Monitoring students based on “need”. [Corporate Reform Connection: Rupert Murdoch’s Wireless Generation ] We assess letter naming fluency and first sound fluency at the BOY, followed by letter naming fluency, first sound fluency, phoneme segmentation fluency, and nonsense word fluency at the MOY and EOY. Student test scores are analyzed and used on report card grades as well as to form reading groups by ability/skill levels in conjunction with other assessment data. Teachers could easily assess these skills without the DIBELS to reach conclusions about reading group placement. Beware: Changes are coming to reflect more “rigor” in DIBELS and align it with Common Core.
3. Kindergarten Items for Assessing Mathematical Standards (Common Core) – District and/or building mandated test to be administered 3x/year: BOY, MOY, EOY. This assessment must be given 1:1 and takes 30 minutes or more per student to administer. A class of 20 students will take 2 full days 3x/year. Here are some examples from the assessment. It is available to the public online, therefore I include the questions since it is provided to the public. The entire assessment is attached in the link above in the title. Think about the language / vocabulary / math operations / and processing skills that kindergarten students must use to solve these problems as you look at the samples.
4. Classroom Based Assessments: These are teacher created assessments that inform our instruction. We look at the end of the year grade level expectations – such as knowing all letter names/sounds – rote counting to 100 – counting up to 30 objects accurately, etc. – and design assessments to check student’s knowledge/progress. These assessments are also used to record report card grades and some are used in TSGAT data entry. We spend approximately one day four times per year to gather this data for reporting periods and BOY data. All assessment is completed 1:1.
5. Math Unit Pre-Tests and End of Unit Tests: These assessments are district mandated per our district pacing guide that covers 6 units of math over the course of the year based on current curriculum adoption (Pearson Investigations) and Common Core State Standards. These assessments take 1-2 days each, are given 1:1, for both pre and post assessments.
6. Writing Unit Pre-Tests and End of Unit Post Tests: These assessments are district mandated per our district pacing guide that covers 3 units of writing [Narrative Writing, Informational Texts (How To Books, All About Books), Opinion (Responses to Reading) over the course of the year based on current curriculum adoption (Lucy Calkins) and Common Core State Standards. An example of a continuum and skills measured in these assessments for narrative writing can be found here. These assessments take 1-2 days each, are given 1:1, for both pre and post assessments. Individual conferring is a formative assessment tool that changes our instruction. We confer individually with many students during Writer’s Workshop on a daily basis.
See the continuum we use as a rubric below. Notice that we are not ONLY teaching kindergartners HOW to write, but teaching them about overall, leads, transitions, endings, organization, elaboration, craft, spelling, and punctuation.
Here is the continuum for Informational Writing. Do you think teaching and assessing all of these skills at once is developmentally appropriate for a five year old?
7. Reading Assessments include the following: In addition to DIBELS and the Classroom Based Assessments our team completes the following assessments:
a) Pearson Sidewalks End of Book Assessments at BOY and every 6 weeks subsequently until a student completes Book 3 or Book 4 as needed. These assessments are given 1:1, and take approximately 3 hours to complete for the entire class each testing period.
b) Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy placement for students who are already reading or to pre-screen at BOY for reading level/ability. These assessments inform our instruction and placement within ability grouping for guided reading groups. c) Fountas & Pinnell Running Records for students who are reading, weekly to inform our instruction. These assessments are given 1:1, and take approximately 30 minutes per week.
d) Teacher made assessment for encoding (writing a CVC word when presented with a picture) and decoding (reading) consonant/vowel/consonant (CVC) words to inform our instruction. These weekly assessments are given 1:1, and take approximately 1-2 hours per week.
8. Report Cards: Our district mandates reporting to parents 3 times per year via a standards based report card. We use many of the assessments listed above to gather evidence for specific objectives listed on our report card based on Common Core State Standards. Any objectives that are not covered require additional assessments. Report cards take several days for analysis of data collected, compiling personalized comments for each student, and data entry of scoring/comments by teachers.
9. WELPA – Washington English Language Proficiency Assessment is a state mandated standardized “bubble test” for children who are learning English as a second, third, or fourth language. Our building is struggling to “test out” children from ELL (English Language Learner services). Students need to receive a score of “Level 4” to “test out”. The state of Washington mandates this test and provides a “testing window” which we just experienced during the last two weeks. Our building decided that teachers would proctor their own students in their classrooms to reduce stress on our children.
According to OSPI of WA, the test is given in two parts:
1) A placement test at the beginning of the year.
2) An annual test to measure “students’ growth in English language knowledge and skills. Results from this test determine which students are eligible to continue to receive ELD services.”
I would think this test would be given toward the end of the year, but instead it was given at the end of February near the 100/180 days of school mark. Would growth improve in several more months of instruction?
The test is given “whole group” and takes 3 days, each day consists of anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes of bubble testing or writing.
Because of the scheduling our children did not have their regular small guided reading groups for two weeks. Is this developmentally appropriate? Does this testing take precedence over learning how to read?
Please see the link to OSPI WELPA testing here. A sample question provided on the OSPI website is shown below.
I can tell you this much… most English speaking 5 year old children are not able to read a short friendly letter independently and answer oral comprehension questions about it, then fill in the correct bubble. Several children stated “I don’t want to do this. It is too hard. I want to go home.” They were near tears several times throughout the test. I can tell you my children and I were all stressed by a test that is developmentally inappropriate. The sample question is far simpler than what the remaining questions were and the fact that it took 1.5 hours with one short break to complete a test is simply terrible to do to kindergartners.
What sober person would give 5 year olds a standardized bubble test? I can tell you that I am sober and the only reasons that I proctored this test are below:
1. I am mandated to do so and out of fear for losing my livelihood, I comply. Please see Kipp Dawson’s word that express our fear here.
2. If I had not proctored this test, someone else would and my students would have had more stress as a result.
10. Special Education: In addition to all of the general education assessment data above, I am an “Integrated Kindergarten Teacher”, with dual endorsements in general education and special education. I am the case manager for 4-6 children who require Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) based on their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Each student has individualized goals that require frequent data check points, daily SDI, and Progress Reports at report card periods to parents. In addition, I also work with the IEP team to develop and implement each child’s annual IEP, coordinate, and lead IEP meetings, complete transition meetings to first grade, etc. These assessments take 1-2 hours weekly. Progress Monitoring takes several hours three times per year.
IEP meetings take several hours/ IEP times the number of students per year. SDI takes several hours weekly. My classroom has one Para-Professional to support my students with special needs.
As a direct result of increasing general education “rigor” in our kindergarten classrooms and rapidly increasing testing demands, our children with special needs will need much more support in order to have the required access to general education curriculum required by federal law via IDEA. One special education consultant stated that the developmental inappropriateness of curriculum is causing a high increase in the number of students qualifying for specially designed instruction. Students are falling further behind as the “rigor” increases beyond what is developmentally appropriate.
11. Daily lessons – constant formative assessment, exit slips, checklists, student work: This is the heart of assessment. This is assessment that matters and informs our instruction on a constant basis. This work is what is really important. It informs teachers what to do next, what to teach next, how to teach it, what strategies are effective, etc.
Alfie Kohn and Richard Allington explain all that really needs to be explained about testing right here in these to graphic quotes:
So what do parents think about all of the mandated bureaucratic corporate reform testing demands on kindergarten children now that they know what it looks like behind my closed doors?
Please be sure to read “What sober person gives standardized tests to a kindergartner? Ever meet a 5-year-old?” – Part 1 and Part 3 to find out what really happens behind the closed doors of my kindergarten classroom now that corporate reforms are mandating top-down standardized, summative, and formative assessments and “rigor” through Common Core State Standards.
Susan DuFresne, Full-Day Integrated Kindergarten Teacher and Co-Author of Teachers Letters to Bill Gates