So, slapping kids around is not what we'd call a sound pedagogy for children. For adults, however...we're not so sure.
With school in full swing across the United States, the littlest students are getting used to the blocks table and the dress-up corner - and that staple of American public education, the standardized test. A national push to make public schools more rigorous and hold teachers more accountable has led to a vast expansion of testing in kindergarten. And more exams are on the way, including a test meant to determine whether 5-year-olds are on track to succeed in college and career.OK, so what test is specific enough that it can determine whether a five year old boy is on track to be a policeman, a fireman, a cowboy or an astronaut since those are the most popular career paths at that age. And why subject five year old girls to this test? Just check the box labeled princess and that will pretty much cover it.
Paul Weeks, a vice president at test developer ACT Inc., says he knows that particular assessment sounds a bit nutty, "but we've pretty much maxed out the market for selling tests to the other grades, so profit margins, you know"?
Asking kids to predict the ending of a story or to suggest a different ending, for instance, can identify the critical thinking skills that employers prize, he said. "Of course, their ability to predict when they are five can be totally different by the time they get to 18, after they've been taught and stuff, but hey, that just means they'll need another test!"
"There are skills that we've identified as essential for college and career success, and you can back them down in a grade-appropriate manner," Weeks said. "Even in the early grades, you can find students who may be at risk. Or at least our tests will show them at risk. Who knows what's really going on at that age."
Opponents counter that testing puts undue stress on 5- and 6-year-olds and cuts into the time they should be spending playing, singing and learning social skills. They also contend that most tests for kindergarteners are unreliable because the children have short attention spans and often find it difficult to demonstrate skills on demand. "Which is why we need more tests, only shorter," Weeks said. "Say, what if we tested playing, singing and social skills? That could work. We really don't care what we test."
Kari Knutson, a veteran kindergarten teacher in Minnesota, has seen the shifting attitude toward testing play out in her classroom. During her first two decades of teaching, Knutson rarely, if ever, gave formal tests; kindergarten was about learning through play, music, art and physical activity. These days, though, her district mandates a long list of assessments. This week, it's on to math - and a seven-page, pencil-and-paper test. "It's supposed to show them what they'll be learning in first grade," Knutson said. "Like they really care.""But don't you see?" Weeks asked. "That's the beauty of it. The tests aren't for the kids anyway. They're to create fear and confusion among the adults, so we can sell them more tests. You people really don't get marketing do you?"