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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 09/21/2012

Tutors for kindergarteners (and younger kids too)

How obsessed have schools become in preparing young kids to take tests and achieve in academics? This much: Tutors for kindergarteners — and preschoolers — have become commonplace.


(Mark Bugnaski/AP)
You might think this is something that would be popular in New York City or Washington D.C. But go to Clay County, Missouri, and you can find plenty of folks willing to help bring kindergarteners who may already be behind in their studies up to speed — for a price.

At the top of this webpage, which lists names and credentials of tutors, it says:

Here are 136 Clay County Kindergarten tutors ranked by student rating and relevance

Some tutors charge the families of kindergarteners $35 per hour, others $45, and at least one, a special education teacher, charges $60 per hour.

If you look at the 2012-13 testing schedule for North Kansas City Schools, one of the school districts in Clay County, you might understand why some parents are frantic to get their kids academic help. Kindergarteners get placement tests in reading and math as soon as school starts in August and September and then are tested again in October and November, January and February, and April and May (though all students may not get tested in every assessment period.)

The tutors for youngsters started some five years ago, but now, you can be sure that if it is happening in Missouri, it is, sadly, mainstream. A Google search for the term “kindergarten tutors” got this response: About 12,300,000 results (0.32 seconds)

Why is this happening? In the decade-old era of No Child Left Behind, standardized tests have increasingly been used to make high-stakes decisions about how good schools are — and now, how effective teachers are. Entire districts and even states are graded by test scores.

Meanwhile, concerns that American students are behind their counterparts in other countries have contributed to a movement to push curriculum down into earlier grades. So, for example, second graders now often do work that third graders used to do — even if they aren’t developmentally ready to understand it. (The fact that American students have never scored well on international tests doesn’t seem to matter to reformers.)

That’s how we have gotten the point where kindergarteners are repeatedly tested — and where 4 year olds in pre-school are being over-assessed too.

Tutors can be found to help preschoolers learn, for example, how to read, so they will start school with a jump on kids who can’t — and so they won’t be considered failures by a system that expects them to read well before many are developmentally ready.

First-grade teachers report that kids can be seen as failing if they don’t read by the start of second grade. Though there are initiatives around the country to ensure that all students read by the end of third grade — a goal in line with developmental stages of young children — schools don’t necessarily give kids that much time anymore, said Ralph Smith, senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

The testing obsession, reaching younger and younger kids, sparked a raw satire on the website Students Last, called The Tiniest Test Takers, a campaign to give standardized tests to fetuses.

Meanwhile, report cards for young kids now don’t look like report cards for young kids. In Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, kindergarteners get marked in the following subjects twice a year:


Mathematics

Counting and Cardinality

Geometry

Measurement and Data

Number and Operations in Base Ten

Operations and Algebraic Thinking

Science

Earth and Space Sciences

Life Sciences

Social Studies

Civics

Culture

Economics

Geography

Reading

Foundational Skills

Text Reading and Comprehension

Writing

Expression of Thoughts and Ideas

Writing: Processes

Language

Conventions of Written Language

Listening

Speaking

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

Art

Creating Art

Responding to Art

Music

Performing Music

Reading Music

Responding to Music

Physical Education

Health-Enhancing Physical Fitness and Activity

Movement Skills and Concepts

Personal and Social Responsibility

And there’s more:

LEARNING SKILLS

Personal and Social Development

Follows classroom rules /routines

Interacts easily with peers

Shows initiative and self-direction

Uses classroom materials appropriately

Thinking and Academic Success Skills

Analysis

Collaboration

Effort/Motivation/Persistence

Fluency

Intellectual Risk Taking

Metacognition

Originality

Synthesis

The grading goes like this:

P — Meets the grade-level standard by demonstrating proficiency of the content or processes for the Measurement Topic

I — In progress toward meeting the grade-level standard

N — Not yet making progress or making minimal progress toward meeting the grade-level standard

M — Missing data – no score recorded

NEP — Not English Proficient; may be used for a level 1 or 2 ESOL student for no more than two marking periods

Surely the people who put this together were well-meaning.

But well-meaning doesn’t make it right, or fair, or sensible.

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 09/21/2012

 
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