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September 08, 2008

Standardized tests in kindergarten?

As a pre-k teacher, I've always been a little bit thankful that my students don't take high stakes tests.  I know that my students learn a tremendous amount of information in school, but I also know that a formal assessment is not always the best way to measure what they know.  I rely heavily on observational assessment to track my students' progress and guide my instruction.  My observational assessments are mostly in the form of daily anecdotal notes -- I write down brief, objective accounts of what my students do and then at the end of the day I reflect on my notes, correlate them with my standards, write "next steps" for individual children and/or my whole class, and use all of this information to inform my instruction for the upcoming days and weeks.  This process takes time, but I've found that it really helps me provide differentiated instruction that is tailored to the needs of each of my students.

I believe firmly that assessments of any kind should be used to guide instruction at all grade levels.  When teachers feel comfortable with their assessments and they are an accurate measure of students' abilities, they can be an invaluable tool in the classroom.  However, when assessment is structured inappropriately or administered in an unfamiliar manner, it can yield inaccurate results.  For this reason, I worry tremendously about relying on standardized tests in early childhood classrooms.  They are not the most accurate way to gather data about what a pre-k, kindergarten, or even early elementary student knows, and inaccurate data is not helpful to the teacher.  Because I feel so passionately about this issue, I was a bit skeptical when I read the New York Times article explaining New York City's new yearlong pilot program to administer standardized tests to children in kindergarten through second grade.  I laud the city for recognizing, and seeking to quantify, the hard work that goes into early childhood classrooms, but I question their methods.  Is standardized testing really the best way to go about that?  Wouldn't it be better to give early childhood teachers -- who teach not only math and literacy, but also social skills, problem solving, creative thinking, emotional regulation, approaches to learning, and more -- a more holistic option for assessment?  I read recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog, Get Schooled, that Georgia seems to be grappling with this same issue.  I will be curious to read more about how their new assessment initiative, GKIDS (Georgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills), works for students and teachers. 

Don't get me wrong, formal assessments can -- and arguably should -- be one component of an assessment plan in pre-k through second grade classrooms.  I complete a brief formal assessment with each of my students once a month and more comprehensive assessment once a quarter, simply to gauge their progress on more formal academic skills.  This data is invaluable as I plan my small groups and figure out new ways to teach material that my students are finding challenging.  But I do not consider these assessments in isolation; I take my anecdotal notes, as well as my students' portfolios, into account when I am analyzing the data from these assessments.  Together, I feel like all three sources of information give me a holistic view of where my students are and where they should be going next.  I worry that if a district moves to gauge the success of its early childhood programs purely through standardized tests, that they will fail to see so much of the progress made by these young students. 

Comments

Hi,
Just wondering-what type of assessments do you use quarterly and once/month?

Hi Cathy,

Thanks for asking! My district doesn't have an assessment requirement for three-year-olds, so I'm free to make my own. I include skills that are aligned to my curriculum standards -- things like letter names and sounds, counting, sorting, patterning, reading comprehension, creating sets, colors, numbers, etc. I assess all of these skills once a quarter, and an abbreviated set of skills each month.

Hope that's helpful! I'd love to hear about what kind of assessments your district uses.

Jennifer

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