The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

And now, final exams for kindergartners. Really.

Katie Jane Klepko, right, stands with her kindergarten class at Mason Classical Academy in Naples, Florida.  (AP Photo/Naples Daily News, Carolina Hidalgo)

Just when you think things can’t get any worse for kindergartners, they do.

It used to be that kindergartners could play  — which is how early childhood development experts say young children learn and are socialized best.  Today 5- and 6-year-olds are forced to sit for hours at a time doing academics, often with little or no recess, and in some places, no time for a snack. Homework goes home every day with many kindergartners.

Stories about the bastardization of kindergarten come from across the country. John Gemmill of Dodge City, Kansas, told me in an e-mail that he spent at least half of the 186 days he teaches a year giving some sort of mandated standardized assessment — with strict rubrics to follow — to kindergartners in his classes last year. One veteran educator described his granddaughter’s Houston kindergarten class as a “sweat shop.” This past spring the interim principal and four teachers at an elementary school in Elwood, N.Y., sent a letter to parents saying the annual year-end kindergarten play was  being cancelled so kids could keep working hard to be “college and career ready.” (This really happened.)

So what’s next? How about final exams for kindergartners?

In 2011 the Florida Legislature approved a statute that is to go into effect during the new 2014-15 school year requiring that school districts develop and/or administer seven or more end-of-course assessments to all students — and did not exclude kindergarten. As a result, school districts have been developing final assessments in subjects including math, language arts, music, science and social studies to give to students, including kindergartners. In Florida, the results of end-of-course exams affect the evaluation and pay of teachers.

Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder of the advocacy group Fund Education Now, said it would be outrageous to give kindergartners these new exams. “We support fair measures of accountability, but forcing 6-year-olds to take 7 potentially high stakes tests is unacceptable.”

When news of the final exams for kindergartners became public in Florida, one legislator, state Sen. David Simmons told WFTV that the legislature didn’t mean for kindergartners to have to take end-of-course exams and that he would work with colleagues to resolve the problem. WFTV said:

Simmons said all that the law requires is for a teacher to sit down with a kindergartener and ask about what he or she learned.
“To assure each one of those children is helped, that we know what the deficits are in each child, so we can address the deficits,” said Simmons.

But Christine Bramuchi, co-founder Fund Education Now, said it is Simmons who is misinterpreting the law. “Politicians may try to backtrack on end of course assessments for kindergarteners, but the law speaks louder than words. The statute clearly states that our very young children will be repeatedly assessed.”

Let’s watch what  happens.