Then the push for accountability took such a hold of the political consciousness that we had to become more focused on reading and, at least in the beginning, that was a good thing. We devoted more attention to emergent literacy (speech and language development) and I believe overall the children in our classes benefited from the increased effort. Over time however, cognitive development became the only thing administrators and policy makers outside of the classroom cared about, possibly because it was the only thing that was measurable. Over the past 15 years, pre-k has become more about testing and less about learning. Here is a recent rant from a pre-k teacher in Texas:
We are testing things that I used to test in first grade, so that is how the curriculum has bumped down. It is a waste of instructional time to ask our kiddos 40+ phonemic awareness questions, when they don't even know simple rhyming words or nursery rhymes. [At my school], Kids don't come with much home literacy experience, but many have the potential to learn in the right environment.When I read something like this I know how this teacher feels. I have been there. I remember completing an individual developmental screening followed by the Head Start National Reporting System testing, then the state emergent literacy assessment, then the Child Observation Record (COR), and lastly a pre-k report card. Total time spent in assessment: 90 minutes per child in a class of 19 students plus entering and scoring anecdotes in the COR. This all happened in the first three months of school when, as a teacher, I was really trying to develop relationships with my students.
That much assessment can really warp your perception of what you are supposed to be doing in a classroom. But, thanks to the trend in brain research that looks at what happens with the brain while it is learning, we find that good-old-fashioned developmentally appropriate, touching, moving and playing type preschool practices are what kids need for optimal brain development. A recent article on Early Childhood News titled, Optimizing Early Brain and Motor Development through Movement describes "windows of opportunity" in the early childhood years for developing the brain. The authors, Carl Gabbard, Ed.D., and Luis Rodrigues write:
These windows begin opening before birth and then narrow as a child grows older. In theory, there are a series of windows for developing motor control, vision, language, feelings, etc. If a child misses an opportunity, his or her brain may not develop its circuitry to its full potential for a specific function.