Last week the Washington Post reported that charter schools in Washington D.C. will start giving standardized tests to very young kids. How young? Try 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds in preschool. The purpose is to measure their academic progress and rank the schools according to the results so as to make them accountable. Fair enough. But are reading and math scores at this age really relevant and truly the best way to measure whether kids this age are learning. I think not.
To me this seems yet one more example of the testing mania that has swept across the nation in recent years and is now trickling down to our youngest students. In Standing Up to Testing, we discuss the proliferation of standardized testing (one elementary school in Texas requires kids to take 14 exams and assessments every year) and the rising backlash among parents, some of whom are having their kids "opt out" of tests by keeping them home on exam days. We also address the parent protests, including those in New York City, aimed at the excessive pressure being put on grade-schoolers to pass them. It turns out the angst that led to such demonstrations was legitimate. Earlier this month The New York Times reported that only 26 percent of kids in grades 3 through 8 passed the tests in English and just 30 percent passed in math—roughly half the number that did so last year. Is education declining? No, the tests are getting a lot harder.
New York is one of the first states to align its exam with the more rigorous Common Core, which is in the process of being implemented in 46 states and D.C.. It's designed to help students become better prepared to face the global marketplace. But according to widespread reports, teachers weren't given the updated curriculum in time to prepare properly, and flustered students as young as age 8 stressed out about these big exams with big consequences all year. I know, because my child was one of those students, and the six weeks in school devoted exclusively to cramming for and teaching to the test took a toll on our household and many others. And for what end? Yes, our kids need to catch up with those of other industrialized countries to ensure that they remain competitive and can get good jobs that will help us remain a world power. But pressurized testing at this age will doubtless also turn some kids off to school. More to the point, simply making tests more difficult won't solve the problem as effectively as improving teacher training, reducing class size, and, in general, making public education a greater priority in this country than it is now.
What can you do? Let teachers, administrators, and representatives know how you feel about these tests. Even more important: Advocate for your own child. Help him deal with test stress. Make sure she's as prepared as possible to succeed on exams. If necessary, consider hiring a tutor to build his confidence.
Also, please weigh in on this question: Should preschoolers really be taking standardized tests?
Image: Small girl working on her school project via Shutterstock