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Monday, April 9, 2012

The testing obsession, and how it is destroying my Kindergarten child

This parent prefers to remain anonymous.  But so many of us parents share her concerns about how the DOE’s obsession with testing threatens to undermine our children’s confidence and spirit.
My 5 year old boy attends kindergarten in a high performing school in a high performing district, and it is destroying him. He's such a happy child and in some ways, wise beyond his years. Applying basic skills, concepts and scientific discoveries to everyday life is easy for him and he can dissect numbers and do calculations in his head without hesitation.
Yet he comes home from school saying he's "stupid", a "loser" and is in " big trouble" because he can't read. This beautiful little boy struggles blending sounds to read words. He knows the letter sounds but reading the words is beyond his grasp right now. Read him a story, a long one with complex characters, and he will answer any question you have and he will tell you how something in his life relates to the story. He's a smart little boy who thinks he is stupid because his classmates know he cannot read and they tell him so. And he knows the pressure is on - he'll tell you he's a level "C" or a beginning level "D" but must be at least a beginning level "E" before first grade...his teacher told him so!
Maybe there are no high-stakes tests in kindergarten but there are "TASKS". Students are asked to read a nonfiction book (about trees) and write a book about the book in 25 minutes. Their written book was supposed to consist of a number of pages, with a sentence or two on each page about a picture that they drew. For the math task, they had to write and draw all the ways to form a number (8:  4+4, 5+3, 6+2 etc). And there was an observer in the classroom to make sure the tasks were administered correctly!
This absolutely wonderful, innocent little boy is being abused. Every day, when I pick him up at school, I have to pick up the pieces and make him whole. At parent-teacher conferences, no one ever said to me that he's young, he'll catch up. (BTW he was 11 weeks premature). Instead, I was just told to read more with him.
I know it's important to read, write and do math, but there is plenty of time for all that. Meanwhile, there are so many other skills that he needs, and so much else to explore and experience. He should be finger painting, playing in centers and navigating his way around the playground. I refuse to push him at home - he will be playing dinosaur hunter, building Lego cities and going to the park with me. My little boy is a precious gift from God - the DOE will not break his spirit!
I have heard that the DOE is commissioning new standardized tests beginning in preK, and I fear the obsession with testing our youngest children is just getting worse. When will it stop?  And what can we do to protect our children from this sort of abuse?


Anonymous said...

This is not just occurring in NYC public schools. It is happening all over, including schools on Long Island. I tutor kindergarten children on Long Island and the EXACT SAME ISSUES that this parent has addressed are going on in this district too. I have a file of the childrens work on the extremely inappropriate classwork (this is for my tracking progress and assessment purposes) which is being given to this child (children) in the class. There is absolutely no connection and most of it is waste of time work or sometimes it is just too much for the child.

Some inappropriate instruction which I have observed:

* The child is being asked to count, write and record numbers 1-20.
* After writing and recording numerals 1-20, the children then fill in missing numbers in random order.
* Words are spelled in the exact form in how it is supposed to be read or written. Very few words are being phonetically spelled. This was given as a writing prompt from the "itsy bitsy spider". The itsy bitsy spider went up my shirt and fell on the dirt (this was spelled by the child in the exact word form. I find this peculiar because children this age should NOT be spelling words correctly with vowels. Consonants are always the first sounds that young children distinguish first. Vowels come last.).
* Second example- After reading the The Seven Chinese Brothers, the child was asked to draw a picture and share something with each other (this was written in the directions, which I also think is a slight concern for being too vague and unclear for 5 1/2 year olds). "Is having games with my cousin." (kindergarten children should not be spelling 'cousin', 'games','having' or even' 'with' on their own correctly).
* Write the missing numeral. So the child is supposed to know what comes between 2 and 4, 8 and 10, 10 and 11, 12 and 14, 16 and 18.
* Teacher read Babushka's Doll by Patricia Polacco (which is generally used for grades 3-6). Children were asked to illustrate a time when they have been patient. Write a sentence with it. Child's response on paper- I wait for the waiter.
* Worksheets are done to reinforce high frequency words which include the directions with the word and picture. EXCEPT, the directions are backwards for the kindergarten children. The children are TOLD to read the 4 word sentence first, cut and glue, write and illustrate. If anything, the directions should be to cut, match and glue words first. Second- read-. Third- write (and the writing can even be omitting and is just extra). The child was much more able to complete the activity by cutting and matching BEFORE reading the word first.
* Worksheets are given to the children from Reading It is not a bad site but teachers and parents have to pick and choose what is best for their childrens needs.Some of the worksheets that I have seen from Reading A-Z have ambiguous pictures which make it difficult for children to understand certain concepts. This is more of an oversight.

These are just some observations that I have picked up since I started tutoring kindergarten children in January. I have observed a lot more too. I also tutor in an extremely high performing school district on LI.

bokaz said...

this rang so many bells with me...our son was also in a high-performing school in kindergarten-- "parents would murder to get their kids in that school" a friend had told me.
And yet he too, came home every day from kindergarten, hitting his head and calling himself "stupid". If this is not child abuse i don't know what is. He's a brilliant little kid, and the fact that the adults around him were apparently geared to a financial metric instead of an educational process is a vise from which he could not escape. We had all kinds of meetings-- i was astonished he had homework in kindergarten...and we too refused to allow the "tasks" to supplant child's play. I've begun to think of the DOE and school administration in the same way i think of Congress-- they might actually do less harm (and thus, more good) if they simply sat back and did nothing, or stayed home. Let the teachers write their own curriculums, know their own children, without having to perform the Sisyphean task of satisfying a testing system that is designed to remain unsatisfied.

Anonymous said...

They are destroying our children with the test crazy curriculum.The children in kindergarten are no longer allowed to have play time or rest time or music or coloring or fun.They no longer have time to socialize or learn necessary social skills.Everything has to be based on getting them ready for the State test three years away. My child does not enjoy school. Thank you Mr. Bloomberg and his cronies for ruining what should be a fun experience for my child.

Susan Crawford, Director, The Right to Read Project said...

In Finland, children are assessed for reading problems in kindergarten, but not taught to read until age 7!

Meanwhile, the situations described in this post and in the comments do sound extreme. Especially when you consider that four out of ten children struggle with learning to read. (I cover this issue in depth at Something else parents should know is that for children with any learning issues, schools are mandated to provide help under the "Child Find" provision of ADA/IDEA. (See links below.) Schools are responsible for finding and addressing these needs, not piling on "more of the same" classroom tasks for children who need more specialized interventions. Addressing the needs of struggling readers will presumably intensify as NYC finally rolls out its version of Response to Intervention (RTI). But "intensifying" should not translate to more stress on and work for the child, but appropriate interventions for struggling readers' needs. And no, this should not all be piled into kindergarten. Here is a description of an effective, age-appropriate early-intervention reading program. It addressed the child's needs, and left him time in kindergarten to play with blocks and trucks. Note that article is from 2004!
Why aren't successful programs like this replicated nationwide? Especially considering that this one was funded by USDOE (our tax dollars!).

While you're working things out with the school on what's appropriate for your child, get some "Explode the Code" books and request your kindergartener be allowed to work on those for awhile each day, and then to go play with blocks. (No blocks in the class? Send him/her in with some Duplo.)
Susan Crawford, Director
The Right to Read Project (then click link to "child find mandate)

Brainy Academy said...

I see so much of this, unfortunately. So many children are being forced to memorize for tests, and this affects the curriculum of every single school across the country. Many schools in their rush to the top are challenging young children with material that is just over their heads. Children go through a development process, and they need certain pre-requisites before the grasp certain concepts. Schools either under teach or over teach! Over-teaching can destroy a child's self-esteem, and then they will definitely do poorly in other classes.

In Brooklyn, many of the parents sending their children to Brainy Academy, which is an after-school and tutoring program, which also has Montessori classes for younger children, have expressed to us the same concerns.

At Brainy Academy we use the education model that has its roots in a lot of research and studies. We allow children to solve problems themselves, give them one-on-one tutoring, and evaluate each student to see where THEY are, so that we can teach to THEM and not to a test.

Check us out:

Tracy Keyes said...

I am a Kindergarten teacher in California. If parents knew what was happening in Kindergarten I would imagine they would all fight it and put an end to it. PARENTS, only you can make this change. Trust me, the fight HAS to come from the parents. If teachers try to fight this, it just looks like we are complaining. The parents in this country have to move this issue to the very top. It is child abuse. I have to give my students 7 weeks of FORMAL testing. You can't imagine all the informal testing I do. We had to get rid of the play kitchen, dolls, toys etc. We test them on the standards and the standards are just 1st grade standards. Kindergarten is now a REALLY BAD 1st grade classroom. I go to work every day and do what I feel is unethical. I hate what I am forced to do. Parents, get together and opt your child out of testing. Do NOT let your child be tested, you have that right. Get other parents to listen and opt out too! There is a book all parents MUST read! It is called, What Happened to Recess and Why are Children Struggling in Kindergarten by Susan Ohanian. Please read this book. Fight for your child!

Anonymous said...

As parents, we can end the tyranny of standardized testing simply by choosing not to have our children participate. The challenge is to do it together. OPT OUT of standardized tesing NOW!