Archives for category: Testing

Jonathan Pelto wonders whatever happened to the Common Core test scores in Connecticut. Why hasn’t Governor Malloy’s administration released them. If the scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessment are similar to other states, Connecticut will discover that half or more of its students are “failing.”

Bear in mind that Connecticut is one of the top three states on NAEP. No matter. SBAC and PARCC set their passing scores so high that most kids will fail in most states. Diabolical or insane or incompetent?

The state’s Commissioner of Education blamed classroom teachers for growing public opposition to the tests.

Pelto writes:

“It what may be the most incredible, insulting, outrageous and absurd statement yet from Governor Malloy’s administration about the Common Core SBAC testing program, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education is now blaming teachers for the fact that there is growing opposition to the SBAC testing scam.

“In their warped world where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength,” these people have the audacity to blame the victims for the crimes that are of the politicians’ making.

“Forget that the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Test (SBAC) is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory.

“Forget that the SBAC test is designed to fail the vast majority of Connecticut students.

“Forget that the SBAC test is particularly discriminatory for children who come from poorer backgrounds, those who face English Language barriers and those who require special education services.

“Forget that the SBAC test results are being used to inappropriately “evaluate” teachers

“Forget that state taxpayers have paid well over $50 million for this disastrous test program just over the past two years and local taxpayers have paid tens of millions of dollars more.

“And forget that the SBAC testing has wasted hundreds of hours of instructional time, time that our children could have been getting the education they actually need and deserve.

“Forgetting all that and proving that Governor Malloy’s administration has lost all contact with reality, the Commissioner of Education is now claiming that the lack of support for the Common Core SBAC tests is the fault of Connecticut’s public school teachers.”

Anthony Cody was appalled to read an article on the “Think Progress” website with the headline “People Like Common Core Better When They Know What It Is.” Cody says, “Caution! Common Core Spin Doctors at Work.” We have recently seen the same spin from the New York Times and the Washington Post in what appears to be a desperate effort to save the Common Core from its toxic reputation.

The article cites the recent poll published by the conservative journal Education Next that showed the opposite to be the case. Among teachers, who certainly know what Common Core is, support is plummeting. 76% of teachers support Common Core in 2013, but in 2015, support has fallen to 40%. Among the general public (which is not necessarily well informed about Common Core), support fell from 65% in 2013 to 49% in 2015.

Cody points out that these poll numbers do not support the headline. The people who know the CCSS best (teachers) like it less and less each year.

He also writes that:

If your bank account dropped by 12% last year and another 4% this year, would you feel as if your situation was “stabilizing”? And just so we are clear on sources here, Education Next is a publication which lists as its prominent supporters the Hoover Institution and the Thomas B Fordham Institute. It exists to promote corporate reform.Some bastion of “progressive” thought. The credibility of organizations like the Center for American Progress and Think Progress suffer when they publish this sort of propaganda.

The very real problem that this propaganda is attempting to distract us from is that we are seeing a huge drop in student test scores as a result of the new, “more rigorous” tests.

Some people (like me) believe that the Common Core architects and planners designed the tests to have a passing mark so ridiculously high that most students were doomed to fail. The cut scores on the tests are aligned with those of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Proficient on the PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment is supposed to be the same as “proficient” on NAEP. But in no state in the nation other than Massachusetts has 50% of students reached the “proficient” level on NAEP. This kind of blue-sky goal makes as much sense as NCLB’s requirement that all students must be “proficient” by the year 2014. This is failure by design.

When it comes to Common Core, we should ask the experts: the teachers who are expected to implement it every day in the classroom. As the Education Next poll shows, they started off liking it, and their like has turned to rejection.

Fred Klonsky’s blog carries a post by retired educator Sandra Deines about a fateful decision in Illinois:

“Starting this fall Pearson will be in the business of deciding who becomes a teacher in the state of Illinois.

“The Illinois State Board of Education has adopted a rule that designates Pearson’s “edTPA” as the means by which student teachers will be evaluated and granted certification.

“As the fall semester begins, all student teachers in the state will be required to pay an extra $300 (on top of the tuition they are already paying) and arrange for videotaping so that they can submit a lengthy narrative that covers the planning, execution and evaluation of a series of lessons with one of their classes as well as a ten-minute video of themselves carrying out their lesson with a class.

“Student teachers are required to get parent permission for their children to be video-taped.

“Pearson owns the video.

“Once submitted to Pearson, an “evaluator” will apply rubrics and 2-3 hours of their time to decide whether or not the student teacher “passes” and can be licensed to teach by the State of Illinois.

“That’s right—no longer will the evaluations of cooperating teachers, university field instructors and education professors determine the success of a student teacher.”

To learn about how to resist the Pearson takeover of teacher certification in Illinois, read the test of the post.

This is the official reaction of the National Education Association to the new PDK-Gallup poll.  The three key findings that the NEA highlighted are that the American public thinks there is too much testing; 41% of the public think that parents should have the right to opt their children out of standardized testing; and only 31% support vouchers that send public money to pay for private schooling.

WASHINGTON – The 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, which was released today, reinforced—yet again—what students and educators nationwide have been saying: there is too much emphasis on standardized testing.

“All students, regardless of their ZIP code, deserve a great public school education. But the high stakes obsession of test and punish has only served to widen the gap between the schools in the wealthiest districts and those in the poorest,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education children receive. The pressure placed on students and educators is enormous. We wantstandards to succeed and be challenged by teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as creativity.”

NEA has been instrumental in advocating for policies that do just that. As Congress is considering reauthorization of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), key aspects of NEA’s Opportunity Dashboard have been a part of the discussion. The Dashboard includes a menu of indicators of school quality and student-centered success, such as access to advanced coursework, school counselors or nurses, and fine arts and regular physical education. Our focus should be on ensuring access to those types of programs because they are much more likely to lead to student success than rote memorization and bubble tests.

Key findings of the 47th Annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools include:
• 64% say there is “too much emphasis on testing”
• 41% say parents should be able to opt their children out of standardized testing
o 57% of Blacks say parents should not be allowed to excuse their child
o Among Hispanics, that margin is 45%
o But among Whites, 41% said “no” while 44% said “yes”
• While 57% of public school parents give their local schools an “A” or “B” for performance, that drops to 19% when asked to rate public schools nationwide
• 95% of Americans rated “quality of the teachers” as very important for improving local public schools, putting it at the top of a list of five options
• Nearly all adults surveyed (84%) support mandatory vaccinations for students attending public schools
“NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose,” said García. “But making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that assessments make sense, guide instruction, and help children advance in learning.”
The poll also showed that many Americans have come to accept school choice and charter schools as part of the education landscape. But that support declines when vouchers are introduced. Only 31% of Americans favor allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at the public’s expense.

“School vouchers divert essential resources from public schools to private and religious schools, while offering no real ‘choice’ for the overwhelming majority of students and their families— and particularly not for the parents of children with special needs, low test scores or behavioral problems,” said García.

Last week, the Washington Post published an editorial in defense of Jeb Bush, Andrew Cuomo, and the Common Core. The editorial scoffed at the idea that the federal government had anything to do with the standards and commended Bush and Cuomo for their sensible support of these state-led standards.

Mercedes just published a book about the Common Core called “The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?

I recommend it to the editorial writers at the Washington Post.

They can save some time by reading Mercedes’ advice to them in this post.

The Post asserts that the CCSS were developed by the states and merely “encouraged” by the federal government.

Mercedes patiently explains how the U.S. Department of Education used the lure of bilions of dollars to entice states to adopt common standards and assessments, to agree to evaluate teachers by test scores, to turnaround low-performing schools (firing staff or closing the schools), and to create a longitudinal data base of student information.

These governors were led right into the federal will for state-level education by the promise of federal money. It was just that easy.

The governors traded state autonomy for federal money. And the federal government– US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan backed by President Barack Obama– encouraged them to do so and allowed it to happen….

The Washington Post editorial board assumes that the governors who signed on for Common Core did so for some primary reason greater that the federal dollars doing so would possibly bring into their states. However, any governor who really wanted “higher standards” would surely have insisted on some empirical evidence that the resulting standards were indeed “higher” prior to agreeing to adopt them. Yet this common-sense insistence did not happen.

The promise of federal dollars won.

The near-simultaneous appearance of editorials at the New York Times and the Washington Post in defense of the floundering Common Core tests does make you wonder which important person is making the calls.

In an editorial that is remarkably uninformed, the Washington Post defends the Common Core, insists that it was created by the states, and asserts that the federal government “merely encouraged” states to adopt them.

None of this is factually accurate. The Common Core standards were written by a small group of Washington insiders, with the largest contingent coming from the testing industry. There were few classroom teachers on the writing committee. Early childhood educators were not at the table, nor were those familiar with children with disabilities or English language learners. The standards were written behind closed doors; their development was underwritten by the Gates Foundation. The federal government paid $360 million for two testing consortia to create Common Core-aligned tests. Most states adopted the standards in 2009 because the U.S. Department of Education dangled nearly $5 billion in Race to the Top funding, and states had to adopt “college-and-career-ready standards” to be eligible for a piece of that huge pie. The standards were not actually finished until 2010, meaning that most states adopted them without having read or reviewed them. They are copyrighted and cannot be revised. It is a basic principle of standard-setting that stakeholders must be represented at the table, that no single interest should dominate their creation (e.g., the Gates Foundation), and there should be a process for revision to correct errors. None of these criteria was met.

The editorial says:

“The pressure [against Common Core] is built on bogus premises. Common Core is not a federal takeover of education. States developed the standards, accepted them voluntarily and implement them with local flexibility. The federal government merely encouraged states to adopt them, as it should have. The standards also aren’t some conspiracy to force children to learn about climate change and evolution; they cover basics in language arts and math. Even so, Republicans in various states are trying to repeal them, in some cases successfully, or to at least defund implementation.”

“Liberal opposition to Common Core, meanwhile, is proving at least as harmful. Teachers unions have resisted the accountability that consistent and meaningful testing might bring, and they have used their own form of Common Core sabotage: Along with misguided anti-test activists, they have encouraged parents to refuse to let their children take exams meant to assess how well students are meeting Common Core expectations. They have succeeded in undermining educational standards in New York: Parents pulled an astonishing 20 percent of students grades 3 through 8 out of the tests last school year, upsetting efforts to track student progress.”

So the Washington Post puts itself in the position of opposing those–like the American Statistical Association–who challenge the validity of test-based accountability for individual teachers. It criticizes parents who object to their children losing weeks of instruction to test prep. It criticizes the opt-out movement, which has mobilized parents to say “no” to the misuse and overuse of standardized testing. And it fails to explain how the parents who opt out upset efforts to track student progress. And not a word about the Common Core tests with their absurd passing marks (cut scores), designed to fail the majority of children.

I am shocked that the Washington Post could be so misinformed.

It is all so predictable. With New York’s “rigorous,” confusing standardized state tests, most students “failed” to meet a standard set unrealistically out of reach. And the ones who were least likely to “pass” are the students with disabilities and English language learners.

Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said a few weeks ago that if she had a child with special needs, she would “think twice” about letting the child take these tests. She was right. But in the latest press release, she insists that everyone should take the tests because the children will be ignored if they don’t have demonstrable evidence that they failed. Say what?

The state acknowledges that some 20% of students opted out of the test. That is the 200,000 that opt out leaders claimed.

The press release says about the opt out students: Department data show that students who did not take the 2015 Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Tests and did not have a recognized, valid reason for not doing so were more likely to be White, more likely to be from a low or average need district, and slightly more likely to have scored at Levels 1 or 2 in 2014. Students who did not take the test in 2015 and did not have a recognized, valid reason for doing so were lesslikely to be economically disadvantaged and less likely to be an ELL.

A majority of students across the state scored a 1 or 2, so this is not surprising.

Once again, a majority of the students across the state “failed.”

The department released test scores and opt-out data late Wednesday morning. They showed that 31.3 percent of students scored proficient on the ELA tests, and 38.1 percent of students scored proficient on the math tests.

Only 3.9% of current English Language Learners scored at level 3 or above (proficient) in English Language Arts and only 5.7% of students with disabilities.

Please bear in mind that “proficient” is used as a pass-fail mark. Please bear in mind that this is absurd. As defined by the two federally-funded testing consortia, “proficient” on the Common Core tests is aligned with the “proficient” achievement level on the federal NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). I served on the governing board of NAEP for seven years. “Proficient” doesn’t mean “passing” or “grade level.” It represents a very high level of academic performance. On the NAEP, only one state–Massachusetts–has had as much as 50% of its students reach the proficient level. The national average hovers around 35-40%.

But also bear in mind that the “cut scores” or “passing marks” are not based on science. They are judgments that may be affected by politics. If too many children pass, the cut score may be raised; if too many children fail, the cut score may be lowered. Ultimately, there is no objective way to measure how many students are “college-and-career-ready.” Certainly it cannot be done for students in grades 3-8. There is no evidence behind the claims now made for the Common Core tests, for the cut scores, or for the predictions about which children are ready for college and career in third or fourth grade or any of the other tested grades.

What we can say with certainty is that these standardized tests–like all standardized tests–are unusually difficult for students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, and students of color, all of whom scored well below the state’s already abysmal averages.

The State Education Department press release (included in link above) said:

The State Education Department today released the results of the 2015 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Tests. Overall, students statewide have made incremental progress in ELA and math since 2013, the first year assessments aligned to the more rigorous learning standards were administered in grades 3-8. In ELA, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) remained consistent in 2015 at 31.3 compared to 30.6 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013. In math, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) increased by seven points in two years to 38.1 in 2015 from 36.2 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013.

Progress for Black and Hispanic students held steady in 2015 ELA and math. While the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level edged up slightly in both subjects, Black and Hispanic students still face a significant achievement gap. English Language Learners (ELLs) also made small gains in 2015 in ELA and math but still lag behind their non-ELL peers. However, in New York City, Ever ELLs— students who received ELL services in years prior to the 2014-15 school year but not during the 2014-15 school year—had higher levels of ELA and math proficiency than NYC students who never received ELL services (Never ELLs).

In 2015, ELA performance for Black and Hispanic students remained consistent with prior year levels, while math performance improved slightly. In math, 21.3 percent of Black students scored at the proficient level this year, up from 19.8 percent in 2014 and 15.3 percent in 2013—a six point gain in three years. The percentage of Hispanic students achieving proficiency in math also jumped six points in three years to 24.5 percent in 2015, compared to 23.4 percent in 2014 and 18.5 percent in 2013. However, the achievement gap continues to persist statewide for Black and Hispanic students, as well as for ELLs. Current ELLs made small gains in ELA and math, yet they continue to lag behind their non-ELL peers.

In the state’s view, minimal progress means “held steady” or “consistent.”

The department’s leadership made clear that they had no intention of turning back from their course of high-stakes tests that “fail” most of the students in the state:

“This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments,” Chancellor Tisch said. “We must do more to ensure that our parents and teachers understand the value and importance of these tests for our children’s education. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen.”

“We must also do a better job of explaining to parents the benefits of higher standards and annual testing,” Commissioner Elia said. “Since I became Commissioner, I’ve made it a priority to establish a dialog with parents so they better understand why we test. Annual assessments provide important information about individual students for parents and classroom teachers and allow us to keep track of how all student groups are doing. This year’s results show our scores are not yet where they need to be, but we will work to ensure continued improvement.”

So, once parents understand, they will feel good about their children’s failure. Maybe in thirty or forty years, we will see most children reach “proficient” or the cut scores will be dropped.

Stanley Kurtz has a very interesting article at the conservative National Review, calling out Jeb Bush for pretending that he does not really support the Common Core standards and that he is in favor of local control. At the Republican debate last week, Jeb was questioned about his strong support for Common Core, and he equivocated, trying to leave the impression that he had no particular allegiance to Common Core. He said, “I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards, directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum content. That is clearly a state responsibility.”

As Kurtz documents, Jeb has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for Common Core, even though federal involvement in its creation (requiring its adoption as a condition of eligibility for Race to the Top funding) and in directly subsidizing Common Core testing (PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment) arguably violates federal law. Federal law explicitly bans any federal interference in curriculum and instruction, and no one can say with a straight face that CCSS has no connection to or influence on curriculum and instruction.

Kurtz is particularly good in describing the Orwellian language of “education reform,” in which reformers say the opposite of what they mean. Readers of this blog have long seen the way that “reformers” twist words to pretend that their corporate-model names and policies are “for the children” (like Students First, Students Matter, Children First, Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Stand for Children, and other poll-tested obfuscations of reality).

Kurtz writes:

The story of the profoundly undemocratic process by which Common Core was adopted by the states doesn’t end there. A devastating account by The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton (hardly a Geroge Will-style conservative) lays it out. Federal carrots and sticks, along with massive infusions of Gates Foundation money, at a moment when state budgets were stressed to the breaking point by the financial crisis, stampeded more than forty states into adopting a completely untested reform, often sight unseen or before the standards themselves had been finalized.

A deliberative process that ought to have taken years was telescoped into months. In nearly every case, the change was made without a single vote by an elected lawmaker, much less a statewide public debate. And all the while, the Obama administration intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states.

Common Core proponents have concocted a fiction according to which this travesty of federalism and democracy was “state led,” using the fig leaf of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), which helped to develop the plan. CCSSO is a private group, with no known grant of authority from any state. Likewise, NGA is a private group, and seems not to include all governors (the list of dues-paying members has not been made public, at least in previous years). None of this can begin to substitute for a truly “state led” process, which would change education standards via legislatures and governors, after full consultation with the public. The Obama administration has dismissed legitimate complaints about this process as a kind of conspiracy theory, yet its own liberal supporters have praised its tactics as a clever ruse to circumvent the constitutional, legal, and political barriers to a national curriculum.

I am sorry to say that Jeb Bush has been a leading supporter and cheerleader of this process from the start, often portraying what was in fact an illegitimate federal power-grab as a sterling example of local control.

In a co-authored 2011 opinion piece making “The Case for Common Educational Standards,” Bush and New York educator Joel Klein deny federal overreach and present the states as voluntarily enrolling in Common Core. They speak of two testing consortia “of the states,” without noting federal financing of these national consortia. Bush and Klein portray a program explicitly designed to create uniform national standards as embodying “the beauty of our federal system.” Day is night.

Kurtz goes on to show how Jeb worked with Obama and Duncan to maintain the fiction that Common Core was “state-led” and was the answer to our problems:

The Washington Post recently reported on Jeb’s appearance with Obama in March of 2011 to push the president’s education agenda. Bush’s alliance with the Obama administration on education policy was in fact broad and deep. They differed on school choice, yet were aligned on much else, Common Core above all.

Consider the following 2010 video of an appearance by Obama education secretary Arne Duncan at Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Duncan goes on about how many states have adopted Common Core (between 7:10 and 9:50), while repeatedly denying federal responsibility for the change. The secretary doth protest too much, methinks.

After Duncan’s talk, he and Jeb jointly take questions from the audience. Here it becomes obvious that on education policy, Jeb sees himself as allied with Duncan and Obama — in opposition to local-control-loving conservatives (as well as liberal teachers’ unions). Jeb’s political solution to attacks on the Common Core is to “push the two groups who are not reform-minded further away from what I think is the mainstream.” (See video between 27:30 and 29:30.)

There are two errors in the account above. First, Jeb and Obama do not differ on school choice except for vouchers. It may be awkward for an author to admit in a conservative publication that the Obama administration has been all-in for charters and private management of schools. Duncan has been a cheerleader for privately-managed charters and Common Core. Indeed, the administration has not fought vouchers, even as they spread from state to state. Duncan has been strangely silent on the subject of vouchers. Nor has the Obama administration done anything to defend collective bargaining, other than lip service. On March 11, 2011, Jeb Bush, President Obama and Secretary Duncan were in Miami celebrating the successful turnaround of Miami Central High School, ignoring the thousands of protestors encircling the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was enacting legislation to cripple the public sector unions (but not fire and police unions!).

The second error in Kurtz’s account is to assert that the teachers’ unions were against Common Core. Both the NEA and the AFT were early supporters of Common Core; neither has renounced the standards.

And there is another error in this claim: Bush touts his education accomplishments as Florida governor, and they were real. But Jeb raised a bottom-performing state to average, which is easier than moving from the middle of the pack to the top.

Many critics think that Jeb Bush’s education accomplishments are a sham. His A-F school grading system punishes the schools with the neediest children. His dramatic expansion of charters has created a corrupt industry of hucksters who open and close charters and take the money to the bank. He fought for vouchers, tried to amend the state constitution, but was rebuked at the polls on vouchers by a vote of 58-42. Florida has a lower graduation rate than Alabama. With “accomplishments” like this, he could destroy public education and ruin the nation.

This post was written by Phyliss Doerr, an experienced kindergarten teacher in Néw Jersey.

As we wind down a year of tremendous controversy in the realm of education in the United States, I thought I would share some of my input given in January to a New Jersey Board of Education panel on testing led by Education Commissioner David Hespe.

As a kindergarten teacher, I find the trend to bring more testing into kindergarten not only alarming, but counter-productive and even harmful.

In the kindergarten at my school, we do not administer standardized tests; however, hours of testing are included in our math and language arts curriculum. In order to paint a realistic picture of the stress, damaging effects and colossal waste of time caused by testing in kindergarten, allow me to bring you to my classroom for our first test prep session in late September for 5-year-old children.

The test for which I was preparing my students was vocabulary. I say a word that we had learned in our “nursery rhyme” unit. Then, I read a sentence containing that word. If the sentence made sense, using the word correctly, the student would circle the smiley face. If the word were used incorrectly, they would circle the frown. This task requires abstract thinking, a skill that kindergartners have not yet developed — a foundational problem for this type of test.

My first sample vocabulary challenge as we began our practice test was the word “market,” from the nursery rhyme “To Market, To Market.” After explaining the setup of the test, I begin. “The word is market,” I announced. “Who can tell me what a market is?” One boy answered, “I like oranges.” “Okay, Luke is on the right track. Who can add to that?” “I like apples. I get them at the store.” We’re moving in, closer and closer. A third child says, “It’s where you go and get lots of things.” Yes! What kinds of things? “Different stuff.” Another student chimes in: “We can get oranges and apples and lots of other types of food at the market.” “Excellent! Everyone understands market?” A few nod.

“Now, I will give you a sentence with the word ‘market’ in it. If the sentence makes sense, you will circle the smiley face, but if it is a silly sentence and doesn’t make sense, you circle the frown.” A hand goes up. “Mrs. Doerr, what’s a frown?” I explain what a frown is.

Next, I read the sentence: “‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ Now, does that sentence make sense?”

The students who are not twisting around backward in their chairs or staring at a thread they’ve picked off their uniforms nod their heads. “Please, class, listen carefully. I’ll tell you the sentence again: ‘I like to play basketball at the market.’ That makes sense? Remember we said a market is where we shop for food.”

A hand goes up. Terrell says, “I like soccer.” “Okay, Terrell, that’s great! But did I use the word ‘market’ correctly in that sentence?” “I don’t know.”

Another hand. “Yes? Ariana? What do you think?” “My dad took me to a soccer game! He plays soccer!” “Thank you for sharing that, Ariana.” The students picked up on something from the sentence and made what seems to be, but is not, a random connection. “Girls and boys, look at me and listen. I want you to really think about this. Would you go to a market and play basketball?” At this point everyone seemed to wake up. Finally! I was getting somewhere! “YES!” they cried out in unison.

Of course! It would be a total blast to play basketball in the market!

So here we find another huge problem with this vocabulary test: a 5-year-old’s imagination. A statement that uses a word incorrectly sounds OK to a child whose imagination is not limited by reality. It is the same reason Santa and the Tooth Fairy are so real to kindergartners — unencumbered imagination.

After explaining why we might not play basketball in the market, I called on a volunteer to come up and circle the frowning face. She went straight to number 3 on my giant test replica, skipping 1 and 2, and circled the frown. Why? She’s 5 and has never seen anything like this. Give the same student a floor puzzle of ocean life and she and her friend will knock it out in 10 minutes, strategizing, problem-solving and taking turns with intense concentration.

The rest of my “test prep” for the 5-year-olds went about the same.

Then came the real thing. As testing must be done in small groups since the children cannot read instructions and need assistance every step of way, I split the class into two or more groups to test.

The results of the administration of the test on the first group were mixed. Despite being the higher level students, their very first test was definitely not an easy task. Instructions for anything new in kindergarten are painstaking, but for a developmentally inappropriate task, it is nearly impossible. For example, making sure my little test-takers have found their place on the page requires constant teacher supervision. I cannot just say, “Number 2” and read the question. I must say, “Put your finger on the number 2.” Then I repeat, “Your finger should be on number 2.” Then repeat it. And repeat again, since some have difficulty identifying numbers 1 through 10. “Let me see your pencil ON number 2. No, Justin, not on number 3. On number 2.” I walk around and make sure that each child is on the right number – or on a number at all. If you’re not watchful as a kindergarten teacher, it is common to have a 5-year-old just sit there, and do nothing test-related — just look around, or think, or doodle.

Next, I tested a second group. During testing, I walked around to see that a few students had nothing written on their papers, one had circled every face — regardless of expression — on the whole page, another just circled all the smileys and one, a very bright little girl, had her head down on her arms. I tapped her and said, “Come on, you need to circle one of the faces for number 5.” She lifted her head and looked up at me. Tears streamed down her face. I crouched down next to her. “What’s wrong, honey?” “Mrs. Doerr, I’m tired,” she cried. “I want my mommy.” It was a moment I will never forget. I took her test and said, “Would you like a nice comfy pillow so you can take a rest?” She nodded. I exchanged her paper for a pillow.

So this is kindergarten.

We force children to take tests that their brains cannot grasp.

We ignore research that proves that children who are 5-6 learn best experientially.

We rob them of precious free play that teaches them how to be good citizens, good friends and good thinkers.

We waste precious teaching and learning time that could be spent experientially learning the foundations of math, reading and writing, as well as valuable lessons in social studies, science and health.

I support and enjoy teaching much of our math and language arts curriculum. Teaching vocabulary is a valuable practice. However, I contend that testing in these areas at this age is not only meaningless, since it does not accurately measure a child’s academic ability, but it is actually counter-productive and even damaging.

Further, I contend that my students are no further along at the end of the year than they would be if we eliminated most of the testing. In fact, they might be further along if we eliminated testing because of the time we could spend engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Finally, I believe that a child’s first experience with formal education should be fun and exciting, and give them confidence to look forward to their education, not full of stress and fear because they did not measure up.

Parents and educators must speak out against harmful trends in education so that they can be reversed immediately.

Phyllis Doerr of South Orange is a kindergarten teacher.

Leonie Haimson, writing on the NYC Parents Blog, wonders whether the New York state tests contain questions as embarrassing as the infamous “Pineapple and the Hare” story, which caused a great national controversy in 2012. Haimson broke the story, and it was covered by almost every national media outlet.

Stay tuned. When Pearson asks a third-grade question about a reading passage that even the author can’t answer, there is a problem. Ya think?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 159,486 other followers