Sunday, October 2, 2011

S is for Soapbox

This blog post will not be a story about how cute kindergarten kids are, there will be no funny anecdotes, cute or creative bulletin board ideas, lesson plans, pictures of field trips or ideas for classroom management. There won't be any of that in this post and for that I am sorry.

Certainly posting about those subjects is where I feel most comfortable as a writer, but occasionally something grabs my attention that just screams, "Write about this!"

I was puttering around Facebook this morning and came across a friend's status update,

"Okay, I don't get it.....let's use more assessments in kindergarten to assess our's an idea, let's look at those in the trenches, get them to talk with the DESE and really make progress! Silly people!"

Now, knowing this friend like I do, I knew he had to have read about this somewhere, so I Googled, and sure enough, there it was, State Aims to Test its Youngest Students.
 I dove in and almost instantly felt my spine start to tingle, my jaw clench and every fiber of my kindergarten teacher-self cringe more and more with each word.

Now ask any early childhood teacher and they will tell you that it was only a matter of time. We all knew this was coming. We already suffer from assessment overkill. Before these little ones walk through our classroom doors for the first time, we assess their early learning with the ESI-R. Within a few weeks we will begin the DIBELS, DRA, K/1 inventory, and BAS. These acronyms mean little to most people but to early childhood educators, they mean more time away from our students. Assessment certainly has it's place. It can help drive instruction, helping us to differentiate our instruction to help all learners; the students who struggle and the students who need to be challenged, and all those in between. I welcome the data that these assessments produce because it helps me to understand my students better. I am not opposed to assessment per se.

However, these new assessments will tell us what we kindergarten teachers already know. There is a huge disparity of ability and knowledge when 5-year-olds enter kindergarten. Much of the disparity comes because many children have not gone to preschool, come from families who live in low socio-economic backgrounds, or come from families who are not proficient in English. Many may not have been read to, or have enriching life experiences with other children. 
Whereas other children may have attended quality preschool programs, come from families who are well educated themselves, who are read to and have many enriching life experiences. 

The focus on kindergarten readiness certainly can begin by improving the accessibility of quality preschool programs by offering them in our public schools, or perhaps improving parent outreach for our at-risk families. The problem is, resources. According to this article that's what our state will receive if a kindergarten assessment is developed. So I have to ask the question, is this assessment student driven, or is it money driven. Do they go hand in hand? Yes, if the funding received is spent in the right place.

However, to "those in the trenches" as my friend refers to us, it doesn't really matter how much they know when they come through our doors. Would we like them to all have the ability to identify their letters and numbers, write their names, know their shapes, how to create a pattern etc...of course we would. What we know, is that no matter what they know when they walk through our doors, it's up to us to take them to the next level. To teach them as much as we can, to inspire the love of learning in our students. To love books, to create, to get along with each become people and ready them for the next step! Adding more assessments will NOT allow us to do that. It will pull us away from our students, time away from learning.

Like the rest of my kindergarten teacher friends, I will do whatever "the experts" tell us we must do, as frustrating as that might be. I understand the importance of academic achievement, I really do, but let's get back to developmentally appropriate learning. Let them be little just a little big longer. Let's inspire, teach them how to play, negotiate, share, be respectful and at the same time learn to love learning...the rest will certainly come.

And now I will step off my soapbox and get back to doing what I do best.