Dear Bill and Melinda,
Our last post covered how corporate reform has increased the amount of testing of 5 year olds in my classroom. In this final post in a series of three parts, I hope to convey what that testing does to my students and what does not happen as a result of this increased testing. I want my parents and the parents of other 5 year olds to clearly see what your “seat at the education policy table” is doing to their children. I’ll start this final part with a question again:
How does your propaganda translate into reality in our classrooms?
What do you share with the public about the WaKIDS TSGAT? Here is the propaganda about the WaKIDS TSGAT on Washington’s OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) website. I say it is propaganda, because this video talks mainly about the one positive of WaKIDS – the family connection at the beginning of the year. It leaves out so much that is terrible about this assessment. I will explain what goes wrong below this video.
What has my experience been with WaKIDS TSGAT? At the beginning of the year when students arrive, it is critical that we establish trust, build a rapport, build relationships, and establish routines. We should be building this rapport, but instead, we are testing.
Many of these young children have never been in school before. Many of these young children have lived in poverty with very little structure or boundaries, but are suddenly asked to find ways to get along with a very large group of diverse people. They struggle to adjust and often feel unsafe. We should be teaching these skills, but instead, we are testing.
Hitting, kicking, biting, and scratching are common at the beginning of the year as children don’t have the social-emotional skills and language/vocabulary/strategies to solve problems using words vs physical “solutions”. We should be teaching these skills, but instead, we are testing.
They are not accustomed to a loud boisterous group of 100’s of children’s voices at lunch time, don’t know how to walk in a straight line, don’t know how to follow a teacher and a group of strangers to a variety of rooms, don’t know yet how to follow the different varying sets of rules across environments and different teachers (music, library, PE, lunch, recess) all with a variety of structures in place. We should be teaching these skills, but instead, we are testing.
Many need support with learning how to use the restroom independently as they are used to mom or dad’s support. (Where to put the toilet paper vs where to put the paper towels?, etc.) Many are frightened, have anxiety, and struggle to stay awake for a full day of kindergarten. There are tears and “owies” that need care, shoes that are untied, running in places that require walking feet, etc. We should be showing we care and teaching these skills, but instead we are testing.
The beginning of kindergarten looks much like “herding cats” and takes an amazing amount of energy, love, and trust building to establish a safe environment for all children. Yet instead, we are required to immediately begin TSGAT, our CBA’s, DIBELS, and Common Core math assessments. Data entry is on a timeline. Assessment windows slam shut if we don’t meet deadlines. Children’s needs are put on hold, but have you ever asked a 5 year old to wait for 1/2 hour while you assess another child? These children have not yet learned independence, Mr. and Mrs. Gates. They will, given time — these independence skills need to be taught and practiced, but instead we are testing.
These independence skills have suffered all year long as a result of the testing demands. Teachers are talking about how their children are struggling with independence this year more than ever before. Why? I have analyzed what is different this year in my students’ behavior and independent skills. The difference is increased testing at the beginning critical time period and throughout the year. Because of all the time lost to testing which could have been used to teach independence, to teach math skills, to teach reading skills, to teach social skills… to teach through developmentally appropriate methods of teaching – because of this loss, my children are less independent than when I don’t have layers of 1:1 testing. Instead, we are mandated to perform assessments on students that result in the exact evidence we can predict they would. We know where this opportunity gap is and we know why it exists. We even know how to solve the opportunity gap if you would just ask us.
Since The Oregonian focused on the TSGAT, I wish to discuss that in more detail.
OSPI has written Data Summary Report about the WaKIDS TSGAT. The parts that are disturbing to me are:
1) The Opportunity Gap: Ask any teacher or principal and we could predict the results of the assessment – students of color, students of poverty, students learning English, and students with special needs will have lower skills.
2) The money ill-spent for test company profits: If we can accurately predict the results, then why spend millions on testing and lose valuable time to assessment/data entry when we could put those millions into more teachers to provide more instructional time for the students we KNOW need intervention? Why not provide money for extra instruction to help the children who need it the most?
3) Permanent testing is like permanent war: We asked our district and the Department of Early Learning how many more years you plan to mandate TSGAT? They looked at us incredulously, and it was like we were to assume: “Why, forever, of course!“. Why are you gathering this data over long periods of time when the only cure to poverty is to provide more interventions for these children, not more assessment? Instead, you are leading the “perversion of education for your own profit“.
4) What is developmentally appropriate is being eliminated by high stakes and testing: Five year olds should be playing, exploring, running, jumping, climbing, painting, modeling out of clay, creating, solving real world problems with their clear sense of innocent social justice, learning how to interact with large diverse groups through play, using Montessori-like hands-on materials from nature to learn math, reading, science, etc. Their interests and talents should be foremost, not canned scripted curriculum and “rigor”. Five year olds should be free of high stakes, labels of “failure”, culling, and standardized testing except in the few instances when we use these for evaluative purposes to get children the special education services they need, period.
In a post on Education Week, “Study Finds That Kindergarten is Too Easy“, author Holly Yettick begins:
“Kindergarten might be the new 1st grade but it is still too easy. A forthcoming study in the peer-refereed American Educational Research Journal finds that students make bigger gains in reading and math when they learn more advanced content such as adding numbers and matching letters to sounds.”
I would argue, Kindergarten is now more difficult than 1st grade – and as Stephen Krashen said in a recent tweet with this link: “Kindergarten hasn’t just become new first grade, but a very bad 1st grade“. A comment made on the Education Week blog above makes the most sense. Beverly Falk writes:
“This study, as reported on in this article, seems to ignore the explosion of research coming from neuroscience, developmental psychology, and education about the importance of supporting the development of the whole child – social, emotional, physical development as well as cognitive development – in the early childhood years. Kindergarten is already suffering from the push-down of academics at the expense of active learning and play-based experiences that research confirms is the most appropriate and effective way that young children learn not only academics, but also what are critically important foundations of learning – self-regulation and the dispositions to learn.
Knowledge of child development and from the practice-based research of teaching young children strongly supports the notion that the best way to prepare young children for optimal development and the ability to handle rigorous academic content is to provide them with rich opportunities to engage their minds, investigate, explore, problem-pose, and problem-solve and have experiences with rich literature, block play, dramatic play, sand/water play, trips, cooking, science investigations, and interdisciplinary projects. Strong social connections/relationships with caring adults and explicit and intentional teaching in the context of such activities is what supports children’s academic growth. Even studies from the field of economics ( James Heckman’s 2013 study of the factors that contributed to the success of attendees of quality early childhood programs) point to the emphasis on social-emotional development (not academic content) as the most meaningful influence on the children who have attained life success as a result of attending a high quality early childhood program.
Kindergarten should teach the way young children learn – in the context of warm, caring relationships that take into consideration children’s developmental readiness, the riches of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and the muti-modal, active nature of young children’s learning. Didactic instruction, rote memorization, worksheets and other paper pencil activities, as well as the use of formal standardized tests do not belong in kindergarten. The primary “work” of kindergarten age children (their developmental tasks) are to make sense of the world through play and active learning. This approach to learning will lay the foundations of understanding, motivation to learn, and self-efficacy that lead to later academic success.”
The influence you have from your seat at the table is not working. Stop. Your reforms are not working. Instead, this is a place where your money could go to truly help five year olds. Instead of trying to fix education by investing in Common Core Standards, one writer tells you to invest in poverty reduction instead. Previously on Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates, Carmen R. Andrews wrote, “The only people benefiting from the Common Core Standards and attached over-testing are those creating the tests and supporting materials.”
Are children actually benefiting from all this testing? If so, how? Are parents actually benefiting from all this testing? If so, how? Are teachers actually benefiting from all this testing? If so, how? Are schools and communities actually benefiting? Are the employers you say require prepared graduates benefiting other than to get kids who have failed to graduate as cheap labor? Show us the evidence of all of these benefits. We know who is benefiting and how. We can show you Pearson’s and “the big four’s” of testing “benefits”.
Have you consulted a wide sampling of parents and teachers in schools of poverty? Have you talked many of the parents, teachers, and principals in the schools of New York where the Common Core state assessments failed 70% of their children in grades 3-8 last year in both English Language Arts and Math? Are you aware that 66% of New York parents and teachers want to END Common Core — not place a moratorium on testing — END it all together? And 88% want to end the high stakes testing? Are you aware that 500 highly qualified NY principals slam the Common Core testing frenzy?
The linchpin of Common Core’s purpose, you claim, is to make all of America’s children “college and career ready” to “compete in the global market” because our schools are failing and we have fallen behind other countries in the “Race to the Top”. Here is what a reader sent as a comment to our previous blog post, “Is Common Core making kindergarten too hard for 5 year old children?“
“I’m an American married to an Italian. Our 5-year-old son did two years of preschool (playschool, basically) in Italy and now he’s in the US with dad doing a year in kindergarten.
He liked it at first but is now far behind the program and acting out in class because he just can’t handle it. Most of the other kids did a year or two of preschool there so they were already somewhat keyed into the system.
Our son simply isn’t ready cognitively nor developmentally for some of the skills and concepts they are trying to foist on him. We had no idea. We were given the impression they do the alphabet and a bit of basic phonics.
In Italy they go to first grade and start learning the alphabet; there’s no presumption of former knowledge; this is the case all over Europe.
I teach in a high school in Italy and I assure you that EVERY Italian kid I’ve met who’s done a year abroad in a US high school says that it was a piece of cake and they were far ahead. This despite spending the first two years of elementary school learning what my kindergartener son is supposed to have learned in the first half of the year!!” ~ Elizabeth
So are American children really “falling behind” in the Race to the Top? Are America’s schools really failing? Do 5 year olds really need to be pushed this hard?
Bill and Melinda, have you ever asked yourselves: “What sober person gives standardized tests to a kindergartner?” Probably not, but you should. Melinda, when you have grandchildren, would you want them to spend all this time on nonsensical testing? I think not. I’ll bet the parents of the children in my classroom wouldn’t want their children used as your corporate reform “guinea pigs” either.
What do you think? Are all these tests helping our kindergartners? If so, how? Are they developmentally appropriate? Is the “rigor” of Common Core for kindergarten developmentally appropriate? Do you want testing to increase by 20 times for your children? Kindergarten Teachers: Write to us. We’d love to hear from you about testing in your classrooms.
And most importanly, parents, exercise your rights to opt your child out of Teaching Strategies Gold with Peg Robertson’s Letter of Refusal.
Please be sure to read “What sober person gives standardized tests to a kindergartner? Ever meet a 5-year-old?” – Part 1 and Part 2 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