The Maryland State Education Association is calling on the State Board of Education to suspend its Kindergarten Readiness Assessments, arguing that teachers lose too much instructional time administering the new computer-based tests and are not receiving useful data to improve teaching and learning.
Betty Weller, the president of the teachers union, said the MSEA fielded numerous complaints from teachers after they started administering the test this fall. The union wants the state to halt the testing until issues surrounding the assessment and its implementation are resolved.
“Our students in all grades — and especially those in kindergarten, which for many is their first formal educational experience — are counting on the adults to get it right and provide them with an education in which they have adequate time to learn and their teachers have adequate time to teach,” Weller said in a statement. “We cannot afford to waste valuable instructional time without ensuring that new initiatives have been thoroughly piloted, communicated and are useful to our practitioners.”
States across the country are increasingly using tests to measure kindergartners’ knowledge in such areas as letters, sounds, syllables and number recognition, assessing the needs of the nation’s youngest students as they move into the K-12 public school system.
At least 25 states mandate a kindergarten readiness assessment, according to the Education Commission of the States. Kindergartners in Virginia and the District take standardized literacy tests.
Maryland has administered kindergarten assessments for the past decade, but this year the state revamped the tests to align with the Common Core State Standards, a new, national set of academic guidelines. The new comprehensive test, which was designed to evaluate kindergartners in language, literacy, math, science, social studies and physical well-being, includes one-on-one interaction between teachers and students.
State officials said they received complaints about lost instructional time and problems with technology from some of the 3,500 teachers who gave the tests for the first time this year.
Rolf Grafwallner, Maryland’s assistant state superintendent for early childhood development, defended the test, calling it a “good assessment,” but acknowledged there is room for improvement. He said the state is working on ways to improve the tests, including making them shorter.
“We are ready to revise it, but don’t ask us to suspend it,” he said. “It will help improve early childhood education.”
Grafwallner said he was disappointed that the union chose to “make a splash” rather than working with state officials on improvements.
Weller said the union is not advocating that the state get rid of the tests but rather seeks a pause to determine the best way forward.
“The teachers are not saying we should not assess these children, but that there are better ways to do it and there may be a better test,” Weller said. “We may need to look at solutions that are workable for everybody.”
Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute of Early Education at Rutgers University, said teachers nationwide have had similar complaints. “Every state is grappling with the same issues,” he said.
But Barnett said the assessments provide education policy experts the tools they need to determine what type of reforms should be considered for early education; what type of support children need before they go to kindergarten; and a base line of a student’s skills as he or she moves through elementary school.
Some opponents doubt whether kindergartners are old enough to take standardized tests.
Weller said the union conducted a survey after hearing complaints about the tests, which were administered between September and November. It received responses from nearly 500 teachers.
The survey found that 91 percent of responding kindergarten teachers do not believe that the assessments will help improve instruction and that 54 percent of them said it took more than 1 hour and 25 minutes to administer the tests to each student.
“Kindergarten teachers statewide were frustrated,” Weller said.
She presented the union’s findings to members of the Maryland State Board of Education during its meeting Tuesday.
The survey also found that 78 percent of the teachers reported technology problems while administering the tests and 51 percent said there were “no or minimal accommodations” made for students in special education and students who are English-language learners.
Jackie Dye, a teacher at Chadwick Elementary School in Baltimore County, said in an interview that she found the test to be very time-consuming, which caused many of the students to become frustrated.
A teacher from Montgomery County said in the survey, which does not identify teachers by name, that there were students who cried and “stated that they were stupid because they felt that they did not know some answers and were upset because they thought that they were supposed to know the answers.”
“Students this young do not understand that we are trying to test readiness or establish a baseline,” the teacher wrote.