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Democracy and Education

Too Young to Test?

By Roscoe Caron and Laura Farrelly

Kindergarten: It’s German for “children’s garden.”

Kindergarten is traditionally based on playing, singing, story-time, creative activities and social interaction. Not in the “corporate model” education era, however. Now, during their first three weeks of school, Oregon’s 40,000 kindergarten kids are given standardized assessments in math, literacy and interpersonal skills.

How on earth did we get from the “children’s garden” to the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment (OKA)? House Bill 4165 (2012) established early learning standards for children age 3 to 5. It empowered Oregon’s Early Learning Council that “supports practice-based evidence and data-driven decision-making and accountability for realistic, measurable outcomes for children...”

Since 2013, all school districts are required to test kids upon entry into kindergarten. Oregon is one of 32 states that mandate such tests.

 

‘The test didn’t tell me anything’

In the “corporate model” era, teachers' voices are rarely heard. Their opinions are mostly unsolicited in the development of corporate education hallmarks such as Common Core or the Smarter Balanced tests.

Around the country, including locally, teachers are threatened with punishment if they criticize standardized testing. School districts, state officials and school boards are free to laud standardized testing as much as they want. Teachers, however, face sanctions if they offer a counter-narrative. 

CAPE interviewed a number of local kindergarten teachers to ask them about the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment. They offered their views anonymously for fear of reprisal. Here are some of those views:

On the worth of the tests

Teacher 1: “These tests are of limited use. They take away from the earliest and most important work in the first weeks: a child’s sense of safety and of belonging in a classroom.” 

Teacher 2: “The test didn’t tell me anything. It’s a lot of time and doesn’t give me the information that people think it’s going to give me.”

Teacher 3: “The assessments are not worthwhile. They are a snapshot.” 

Teacher 4: “The data? I don’t really get any useful info from these tests.”  

 

On the impact on the students and classroom

Teacher 1: “It’s very invasive and not fair to the children and the community we’re trying to develop.”

Teacher 2: “We are building a new community. It’s hugely disruptive.” 

Teacher 3: “For the ‘interpersonal skills,’ we are told to ‘guess where the students are at’ based on two weeks of observation. It’s extremely subjective.”

Teacher 4: “The beginning of the year is mind-blowing for kindergarten kids. They don’t even know where the bathroom is and we’re going to assess them? They get okayed by the state and then they get easyCBM’d (a district test) by the district.” 

 

On the impact on teachers

Teacher 1: “It’s not only kindergarten teachers. Assessment and fear will now start happening at pre-schools, especially in the Head Start schools. We’re just going to start making pre-school miserable.”

Teacher 2: “It takes away the autonomy, creativity and knowledge of the teacher.”

Teacher 3: “I trust the assessments I develop. I’m not sure the district and state tools are the right ones.”

Teacher 4: “We test the kids as soon as they are in our hands. It’s simply not right. We are not trusted to make professional decisions about our own classrooms, yet we are trusted to have these kids all day long.”

 

Other Voices

Two internationally known “corporate model” critics with ties to Oregon have offered their views on the OKA.

David Berliner, author of 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools, says, “Remember the saying ‘Everything important in life is actually learned in kindergarten’? I’ve noticed that none of these essentials are assessed on standardized tests.”

Yong Zhao, author of Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?, says, “Going to kindergarten is not a job interview. Children do not need to be ready for kindergarten; kindergarten needs to be ready for children.”

The only way we can get to a more rational assessment system is for the public to question deeply the current data-centered corporate model. New York and Illinois have passed Too Young to Test laws that prohibit standardized testing in grades K-2. 

Oregon should do likewise. Contact your legislators.

Roscoe Caron and Laura Farrelly are members of the Community Alliance for Public Education (CAPE, oregoncape.org), a coalition of parents, teachers, professors, students and community members who challenge the many assaults on public education and who believe in a strong public education as the foundation for American democracy. For more information about Too Young to Test legislation in New York and Illinois, visit publicleadershipinstitute.org.