Brian Peyes-Mendez participates in a test with Kendra Sarris on Oct. 30, as kindergarten teachers assess students with new tests in Accokeek, Md. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

The state of Maryland has developed a new Common Core-aligned “kindergarten readiness assessment” for teachers to administer to young kids to see, rather obviously, if they are “ready” for kindergarten. Now hundreds of kindergarten teachers who used the computer-based test for the first time this fall are pushing back, saying the assessment is not appropriate and won’t help them teach.

My colleague Ovetta Wiggins reported that the Maryland State Education Association, a teachers union, is  calling on the state Board of Education to suspend its new Kindergarten Readiness Assessments until questions about its effectiveness and administration are resolved.

The union began hearing complaints from kindergarten teachers this past fall about the amount of time it takes to administer and reduction in instructional time; the lack of benefits of the assessment to students and teachers; the lack of training in test administration; the developmental appropriateness of the exam; the impact of the assessment on students with disabilities and English Language Learners, and more.

Kindergarten teachers have been giving readiness tests to youngsters for many years. Today at least 25 states mandate a kindergarten readiness assessment and this is likely to rise. As standardized testing has become a key component of school reform and early childhood education, new emphasis has been placed on ensuring that children are “ready” to enter kindergarten, and new assessments that evaluate a range of social and academic abilities are being created. The U.S. Education Department, for example, this month announced that $250 million in federal funding was going to 18 states to create or expand existing preschool programs, with one of the requirements the creation of  kindergarten readiness assessments (KRAs).

Stephanie Feeney, professor emerita of education at the University of Hawaii and a member of the advisory board of nonprofit group Defending the Early Years, has written that the term “kindergarten readiness assessment” can refer to instruments — tests, guided observation, performance tasks, checklists — that have different purposes, including helping a teacher tailor instruction to individual students, determining if a preschool program was successful in preparing students for kindergarten and deciding whether a child is ready for the rigors of kindergarten. Because there is no consensus on what these assessment should be used for and how they should be created, big questions remain about which to use and when, including whether they improve developmental outcomes for kids and whether they are the best use for limited resources.

Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute of Early Education at Rutgers University, said that kindergarten readiness exams can be useful — but in some cases, can also be wasteful. He wrote in an e-mail:

Unless the assessments are used to inform the teacher’s work with each child the biggest waste is when all children are assessed.  To assess how well the system is doing, we can just test samples of children or only test each child on a small portion of the overall assessment.  If I have a kindergarten class of 25 and only test 5 at random or only test each child on a randomly selected 20 percent of the assessment then the burden on everyone is far less.  I don’t know why we don’t see this approach more often.

The new kindergarten readiness assessment in Maryland was created to evaluate students in language, literacy, math, science, social studies and physical well-being, and is delivered on the computer or tablet where they are available.  Teachers who responded to the union survey said the test took them at least one hour, and sometimes more than double that, to administer to a single kindergartner, children not known for their ability to sit for long periods of time. More than 90 percent of those responding said they did not think the results would help them with instruction.

The survey of kindergarten teachers the union took after it received complaints is not necessarily representative of the entire population in the state, but it is worth noting that Maryland education officials are now planning to revise the test after taking a teacher survey of its own. Rolf H. Grafwallner, Maryland’s assistant superintendent for early learning, said that he had also received complaints from teachers about the length of the assessment and technological problems in administering it, and he told Wiggins that he plans to revise the assessment.

If you are wondering why these problems couldn’t have been anticipated, well, I’m wondering too.

The union’s report on its survey quotes a number of kindergarten teachers, including one from Charles County:

I think it was a ridiculous expectation for K teachers to complete this assessment at the beginning of the year along with all the other beginning of the year testing. I taught my class the first week of school and then started testing and continued testing for basically the entire month of Sept. The KRA was so time consuming. It took me 45 min. to do just the reading part for one child, times that by 24 students. Then I had to start the math section. I also took a lot of my own time at home and school to complete the observational part of the assessment. My assistant taught my class for the first month of school. Thank goodness that I have an awesome assistant who knows what to do, but that is not the point. It is not fair that she should have to do the teaching when she does not get paid a teacher salary. And what about those K teachers that do not have an assistant, their students are probably doing busy work while the teacher tests. I also think that we are spending so much time on a test so that the info. can go back to the state and they can do what with it….see where pre K can step up their game and where they need to spend more time. What’s the point of that when pre k is not even mandatory? Some children don’t even get any school type experience until they come to kindergarten. I think the KRA definitely needs to be looked at for next year, something should be done. Please do not use my name if you pass this info to anyone else. Thank you.

These issues are not singular to Maryland; kindergarten teachers across the country are raising similar objections. For example, in Florida this year, a teacher refused to administer a standardized test to kindergartners and the state stopped, at least temporarily, the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading. The  teacher, Susan Boyle, wrote an open letter to the parents of her students and listed all of the tests she was supposed to give them, and wrote this about the readiness screener:

FLKRS assessment [Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener]– In the past this has been a checklist for determining how effective VPK (Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten education program) is. This year we were told to take anecdotal records by observing 45 performance indicators across five developmental areas. This is to be completed within the first 30 days of school. The demographics portion of this assessment is available online for teachers. The WSS (Work Sampling System) part where we enter data on the 45 performance indicators is not yet available. Monday will be the 15th day of school. Presumably they will have it up and running before day 30.

What we are seeing is an increase in the number of standardized tests that teachers are being required to give to very young children despite warnings from early childhood experts that preschoolers and kindergartners are not reliable test-takers. Don’t be surprised if more teachers start to push back.

Here is the full report on the union’s survey:

 

 

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