Recently, my kindergartener wanted to work on his homework independently. Being the busy mom that I am, I obliged him but let him know that I would just keep an eye on things while I made dinner. He worked diligently through math problems and practiced forming letters. A few minutes went by and I looked over to see him answering multiple-choice questions about a reading passage. I watched as he quickly scanned the question, looked through the answer choices and then turned his attention to the reading passage.
“Hey,” I said. “Did you read the passage? I think that the instructions are that you need to read the passage and then answer the questions.”
“I know that.”
“Well, then what are you doing?” I asked.
“I don’t need to read the passage. I can just look at the question and the choices and then look through the reading to find them.”
Whoa-the little dude has figured out how to dupe the multiple-choice system. And he’s only 5. I’m not telling you this so that you pronounce my child to be brilliant or amazing…I’m sharing this because I think that it shows a disturbing trend among elementary age children in the United States. Multiple-choice questions and preparing for testing is starting younger and younger, with some schools beginning this training in kindergarten. And it isn’t for the benefit of young children. In fact, it’s developmentally inappropriate.
Friedrich Froebel developed ‘Kindergarten’ in Germany in the mid 1800’s. The term kindergarten emerged as he was setting up his school: ‘kinder’ meaning child and ‘garten’ meaning garden. The idea was that children would grow like a garden to become whole people. Froebel developed a program for young children that emphasized learning through play. The school experience is becoming vastly different from what was originally developed. Kindergarten should be based on children’s development and educational experiences-not testing rigor and data.
In her recent Washington Post op-ed piece titled Reject Common Core Tests in Grades K-2: Weingarten, Carlson-Paige, Nancy Carlson-Paige remarked,
“It’s right and overdue to make early childhood education a priority in this country. The United States ranked 24th among 45 nations surveyed for availability and quality of early childhood education. But as we move toward the goal of universal access to pre-K, we have to do it right. Standards for early education, including the Common Core State Standards, must reflect the decades of research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience that tells us how young children learn.”
It seems that in an effort to prepare children for a future in a data driven ‘knowledge economy’ we are in fact doing them a disservice. Learning to bubble in answers and navigate multiple-choice questions isn’t beneficial for young children. So what can we do to ensure that we are supporting children’s learning?
First, we can reject standardized tests in grades kindergarten through 2. Standardized tests simply aren’t developmentally appropriate for young children. Parent and teachers can work together to help stop the tide of data driven standardized testing. Combining forces and opting out and speaking up over the inappropriate use of standardized tests in the youngest grades will let policy makers know that it’s not okay.
We also need to recognize and support the educators of young children. In the article Kindergarten Too Young to Test, Nancy Carlsson-Paige reiterates the importance of teachers being able to create assessments that help them better understand what a child needs. This way the teacher can develop lessons that are tailored to student needs. Teachers should be able to assess young children in developmentally appropriate ways-and this does not include high stakes (or any!) standardized evaluations. It’s a shame that students and teachers alike have to be put through months of test preparation when it clearly has no benefit.
We need to devote time and resources to understanding how young children learn and avoid the trap of extending testing to the youngest grades for the sake of data. Young children learn best while engaging in play-based learning. They actively and “fully engage their bodies and all of their senses” when learning.
In light of this reflection, I asked my son what his favorite part of school was.
“I really like kindergarten!” he said-sounding a bit surprised at his pronouncement.
“What is your very favorite thing to do?” I asked.
“I love centers. I get to do math, computers, and play in the home living center. That’s where I get to play in the kitchen and pretend. I love that-it’s so fun!” he said.
There was no mention of sitting still for hours or completing multiple-choice tests. But does this surprise anyone?