Back in 2014, I ran a post titled, “A very scary headline about kindergartners,” which started this way:
Rob Saxton is Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction. Jada Rupley is the early learning system director within the state Department of Education. Together they wrote an op-ed in the Oregonian that was published online with this headline:
Kindergarten test results a ‘sobering snapshot’
What could possibly be sobering about test results from kindergartners? What kind of tests are they giving to kindergartners anyway?
It turns out that every public school kindergartner in Oregon was given a kindergarten readiness test last September to see how many numbers, letters and sounds they knew. The Oregonian reported that kids on average entered kindergarten knowing 19 capital and lower-case letters and seven letter sounds of at least 100 possible correct answers.
Kindergarten readiness tests are nothing new. What is is the ever-increasing focus on turning kindergarten, and now preschool, into academic environments with the aim of ensuring that children can read by the time they are in first grade. In fact, kindergarten is the new first grade when it comes to academics.
Saxton and Rupley wrote in their piece that the results of the testing of the kindergartners in Oregon “provide a sobering snapshot of the skills our children possess as they enter kindergarten.”
The following post is something of a follow-up to exactly where we are with kindergarten testing. Not only are kindergartners inundated with tests in many schools, but, they are, in some places, being taught to “love” testing. A teacher in Chicago wrote a piece for Catalyst Chicago titled, “How Bailey Reimer’s kindergartners came to love testing.” No, this isn’t a piece of satire, or, at least, there is no indication that it is. You can read the initial piece, here, and a response below from veteran educator Peter Greene. Greene teaches English in a small town in Pennsylvania and writes the Curmudgucation blog, where a full version of this post first appeared. I am republishing it with permission.
[The message our children need to hear but almost never do]
By Peter Greene
Bailey Reimer is the author of “How Bailey Reimer’s kindergartners came to love testing” in Catalyst Chicago. Reimer loves the Test, and she opens her piece with the astonishing story of how much her students love it too — so much that they are sad when they learn they won’t be taking one tomorrow. “They love the uninterrupted work time and comparing their new score to their old one,” she writes. Because, yes, 5-year-olds are famous for their long attention spans and their desire to do seat work.
Reimer correctly points out that the new K-12 education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, has cemented the Big Standardized Test into schools, and so her school figures why not just get started practicing with kindergartners. As Reimer tells her story:
To get to a point where my students appreciate and understand testing, I had to first appreciate it myself. I love tests that give me relevant, timely information about how my students are doing, from how many letter names they know to how many words per minute they read. According to reports by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to graduate from high school.
If you need regular daily testing to tell how your kindergarten students are doing, you do not belong in a kindergarten classroom. And before one cites research, one should be clear on the difference between correlation and causation. However, Reimer might want to check out the research that shows that early “head starts” in learning pretty much disappear within a few years.
But that’s not the most astonishing thing she says.
Of course, 5-year-olds don’t come to school automatically loving testing. As educators, it’s our job to build that appreciation and understanding.
No. No no no no no no no no no, no. No, Ms. Reimer, that is most decidedly NOT our job. It is our job to build appreciation and understanding for reading, art, math, running and playing, and learning in general. It is not our job to make them love the test. It is certainly not our job to teach that school is a place we go to take tests and get ready to take tests.
And get ready they do. Reimer also matter-of-factly observes that she “allows” students to spend time on test prep, but, you know, it’s fun because they do it on a rainbow rug.
Next she opines about the beauty of her data wall, which features flowers that move up the wall as each student hits a new benchmark.
As our class’s flowers climb up the wall, my students are not just becoming better readers, but they are more aware of and interested in their progress. As soon as students see other flowers starting to move up, the most frequently asked question in the room is, “Can we do my test yet?”
Here we plainly see that her students aren’t interested in learning, and they like taking tests because it gets them a reward, because being left behind by their classmates is something 5-year-olds really hate.
As teachers, we have a chance to build a culture around testing that allows students to understand its value and the opportunities that come with it. That way, when it is time to announce an upcoming test, students can look like mine: smiles wide, fully attentive, delighted to show what they can do.
Actually, as teachers, particularly as teachers of very small children who would punch themselves in the face if they thought it would win them the approval of the adults in their lives, we have a chance to build a culture around anything we choose. So why not build it around a love of learning? Why not build it around a small child’s natural joy and curiosity about life? Why not build it around intrinsic motivation instead of the idea that success will always be defined by other people? Why not build it around play? Why on Earth would you build a culture around testing?
You will be unsurprised to learn that Reimer’s background includes Teach For America and Teach Plus, she’s teaching at a Chicago charter, and that on her LinkedIn profile she says that in the future she is interested in working for “nonprofits or schools to provide students programming in service learning, literacy or the arts, or working as a leader amongst adults who are creating opportunities for students.” So, not trained as a teacher, and not planning a teaching career. Just passing through.
I don’t know if her students love testing. But there’s no reason to report that as if it’s a good thing.