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.


SmartyBearMom said...

Couldn't have said it better myself.
Cindy in VA

Alexa said...

Grrr. I can see this creating another test to "teach to." Assessment is fine, but it should not drive the educating. I wish we had the leadership (and faith) to let teachers do what they do best... get kids to learn on their own. If you teach them to think, the test scores will follow.

Kristine said...

i stumbled across your blog while googling and i'm glad i did. my son just started K. the love you had for your job shines through in your words here. thanks for sharing.

Jana said...

When I read the following part, all I could was smile and think AMEN!

"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!"

I am so glad I found your blog. Your love of teaching and your students shines through.

Jamie said...

AMEN! I have been saying this every night to my husband, we are in our fourth or fifth week of school and our school is on AYP jail so my kindergarten class just finished our 5th week of assessments to see where we are at! I am so tired of testing I just want to teach - PLUS it's the beginning of the year when I am desperately trying to teach routines and getting along behaviors - It seems so unfair to them - I always tell the parents they have been on this earth for 5 years look how far they have come since they were born! Let's not rush them too much and - yes they can and will succeed but testing overload is stressing me out! - Thanks for getting on your soapbox and sharing your feelings and thanks for listening to mine :)

Anonymous said...

Well said. It's really sad the direction we are going. I was in a professional devlopment recently where they were talking about more tracking data and one of the teachers turned to me and said "do you remember when we could just teach?". We actually give a standardized test in December where these babies have to bubble in answers. So our admins have us giving paper and pencil multiple choice tests each week to assess them---for 5-year olds! How develomentally appropriate.

KdgKelly said...

Ewww I hate the DIBELS test. It tells me nothing. I've done lots of research about DIBELS and there is no reason we should have to continue to use it. K is the only grade that has to administer this test to every kiddo. It makes me cringe to think that this test takes a whole day of my time and keeps me from instruction. Assessment will do us no good if we don't have time to instruct and actually teach our kids something!

Blair said...

In Georgia, we have GKIDS...Georgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills that we use to assess our students every 9 wks. According to the article, it sounds like your state will soon be getting your very own GKIDS. We have to assess them on every single standard we teach and then on the social/emotional areas, fine motor skills, and approaches to learning as well (on top of what we use for progress monitory for the P.O.I.). The one good thing about it is that it does show the student's progress throughout the year and it keeps you on top of things, but, when it comes time to assess them again for GKIDS, I find myself pulled away from teaching and only assessing. I hate it.

However, I'd rather do this than the big scary state tests in the spring! That is a nightmare and so stressful!