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Topic: [ncsm-members] A very scary headline about kindergartners
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] A very scary headline about kindergartners
Posted: Aug 27, 2014 7:13 PM
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att1.html (11.5 K)

From The Washington Post / Valerie Strauss Answer
Sheet blog. See
-- our thanks to Liz Blek for bringing this piece
to our attention.
Answer Sheet

A very scary headline about kindergartners

By Valerie Strauss

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 [see

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."

A working paper called "Is Kindergarten the New
First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten
in the Age of Accountability," by Daphna Bassok
and Anna Rorem of the University of Virginia's
EdPolicyWorks, a center on education policy and
competitiveness, notes that kindergarten has been
transformed over the last decade, with academic
skill-being taking center stage. [see

For some kids, learning to read in kindergarten
is just fine. For many others, it isn't. They
just aren't ready. In years gone by, kids were
given time to develop and learn to read in the
early grades without being seen as failures. Even
kids who took time learning how to read were able
to excel.

Today kids aren't given time and space to learn at their own speed.

Writer Alfie Kohn wrote in this post about
concerns he has about the new calls for universal
early childhood education. Why? Because when
people talk about "high-quality programs," they
often mean academic programs, meaning the
academic focus is being pushed down to younger
and younger kids.[see

Very few people are talking about the kind of
education that would be offered - other than
declaring it should be "high quality." And that
phrase is often interpreted to mean "high
intensity": an accelerated version of
skills-based teaching that most early-childhood
experts regard as terrible. Poor children, as
usual, tend to get the worst of thisŠ.

Š The top-down, test-driven regimen of Bush's
"No Child Left Behind" and Obama's "Race to the
Top" initiatives in K-12 education is now in the
process of being nationalized with those Common
Core standards championed by the Times - an
enterprise largely funded, and relentlessly
promoted, by corporate groups. That same version
of school reform, driven by an emphasis on global
competitiveness and a determination to teach
future workers as much as possible as soon as
possible, would now be expanded to children who
are barely out of diapers.

That doesn't leave much time for play. [see
] But even to the extent we want to promote
meaningful learning in young children, the
methods are likely to be counterproductive,
featuring an emphasis on the direct instruction
of skills and rote rehearsal of facts. This is
the legacy of behaviorism: Children are treated
as passive receptacles of knowledge, with few
opportunities to investigate topics and pose
questions that they find intriguing. In place of
discovery and exploration, tots are trained to
sit still and listen, to memorize lists of
letters, numbers, and colors. Their success or
failure is relentlessly monitored and quantified,
and they're "reinforced" with stickers or praise
for producing right answers and being compliant.

This dreary version of early-childhood
education isn't just disrespectful of children;
decades of research show it simply doesn't work
well - and may even be damaging. [see ]

Bassok, one of the authors of the research paper
mentioned above, noted that while there are fun
and engaging ways to teach young kids academic
material, she worries that so much emphasis will
be put on learning to read that other things,
like play and social interactions, will be lost.

It's already been happening for years, and it
appears to be getting worse. The end result will
be kids who hate school even earlier than they do

Kids like to play. Kids learn from play. Why it
doesn't make sense to just let them play is
beyond me.

Here's a position paper on the testing of young
children by Defending the Early Years, a non -
profit project of the Survival Education Fund, a
501(c)(3) tax - exempt educational organization
based in Watertown, Massachusetts. (Find more
information at or write to

What is the problem?

Today, the majority of classrooms for preschool,
kindergarten and primary age children are
required to address content standards that
prescribe what children are expected to learn.
These standards are intended to insure that
worthwhile subject matter is taught. Performance
standards have been developed to find out if
children have learned the prescribed content.

While standards are helpful for identifying
valuable content, they can also have a negative
impact on children and programs. Some of the
problems with standards are that they are not
always based on knowledge of how children grow
and learn, and often do not take into account
children's needs, capacities, cultures, and
unique characteristics. Standards can lead to
teaching of skills in ways that are not effective
or meaningful, to the narrowing of the
curriculum, and to less time for play and
hands-on learning experiences that are important
foundations for later school success.

It is useful to find out if children have learned
the prescribed content, but the way this is most
often done is through testing - which also can
have a negative impact on children and programs.
One of the major problems with the tests is that
they are often not based on knowledge of child
development and are therefore not suited to the
developmental abilities of young children.
Another problem is that tests can only measure a
narrow range of knowledge and skills, so they
often miss important objectives of early
childhood education like creativity,
problem-solving, and social and emotional
development. Teachers who want children to do
well on tests may eliminate worthwhile learning
experiences, introduce skills too early, or
narrow the curriculum in order to "teach to the

Research shows that children learn best when they
have hands-on learning experiences, engage in
structured play, experience facts within
meaningful contexts, invent their own problems to
explore and solve, and share their own solutions.
The current emphasis on standards and testing has
led many schools to over-focus on assessment at
the expense of meeting children's developmental
needs and teaching meaningful content. Play and
activity-based learning have been disappearing
from many early childhood classrooms, and - along
with them - children's natural motivation and
love of learning.

What could be done to address this problem?

Program practices:

1. Promote programs that are based on current
research on how young children learn best.

2. Promote meaningful, hands-on learning
experiences in classrooms for young children.

3. Work to ensure that teachers provide
well-thought out educational experiences that
demonstrate knowledge and respect for each child.

4. Work to ensure that children have literacy
experiences that include storytelling, quality
children's literature, and acting out stories
rather than activities that isolate and drill
discrete skills.

5. Help teachers skillfully build curriculum from
what children can do and understand instead of
direct teaching skills that are disconnected from
children's understanding.

6. Encourage schools to respect the language and
culture of children and their families, to
encourage families to take ownership and to make
sure that their history and experiences are
included and valued.

7. Encourage schools to design schedules that
provide ample time for families and school
personnel to meet and work together.

8. Work to ensure that teachers who have
specialized training in early childhood education
are placed in classrooms for young children.

Assessment practices:

1. Encourage policies that protect children from
undue pressure and stress and from judgments that
will have a negative impact on their lives in the
present and in the future.

2. Promote the use of assessments that are based
on observations of children, their development
and learning.

3. Work to ensure that classroom assessments are
used for the purpose of improving instruction.

4. Support efforts to eliminate testing of young
children that is not intended to improve
classroom practice.

5. Eliminate labeling and ranking of children based on standardized tests.

What family members can do at home

1. Provide young children with space and time to
play at home and in the neighborhood.

2. Read good quality children's books and limit screen time.

3. Resist reinforcing the school's agenda -
drilling for skills - and replace it with
opportunities for meaningful learning


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