When did we become a nation that harshly judges how young children learn? How does such inappropriate evaluation of children make our country great? The focus should be on the children and their needs.
Also, does online preschool assessment violate a young child’s right to privacy? I think parents and teachers should be concerned.
I recently revisited one of my favorite books, Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age Five by British psychologist Penelope Leach. Leach’s writings guided me through those early years, after I had my own child. The pictures and explanations in the book are straight forward and easy to understand.
I wanted to double check what preschoolers should be expected to learn before starting school, because according to a report from Florida, “Nearly half of Florida’s VPK (Voluntary Prekindergarten) students are not ready for kindergarten.” VPK is another description for preschool.
One VPK director, in referring to the student test scores, said, “I was severely disappointed and unhappily shocked.” Really? We are talking about 4-year-olds here.
I will share Penelope Leach’s recommendations later.
Here are a few facts about Florida’s VPK program.
In 2016-2017, 33% of 4-year-olds and five percent of 3-year-olds were nationally enrolled in state-funded preschool. Schools participating in Florida’s VPK program could be put on probation to obtain state funding if little ones don’t raise their scores.
Florida’s VPK enrollment is second in enrollment in the country, only behind Washington D.C., but, unlike D.C., it is close to the bottom in funding.
According to the annual State of Preschool Report, the State of Florida pays $2,282 per child, compared to the District of Columbia’s $16,996 per child (p.29). According to the Ocala Star Banner, VPK providers there receive just $4.51 per hour for three hours of daily care for children during the school year and $6.93 per hour during the summer.
These preschools are apparently struggling to survive, in a state where politicians seem to care little for public schooling and children. In such a punitive atmosphere, every test score matters. Yet most child development specialists will question such testing.
Legislators and education reformers see this test as critical. They promised last year, after putting children through bad assessment, that this new test, called the STAR Early Literacy Assessment, would be the one. But the scores are not good, and it looks like another boondoggle.
Some teachers wonder if it’s the test.
- It was administered online.
- The test is new.
- Many children speak Spanish.
Isn’t any testing questionable for this age? Where does this information go? Will the collected data brand a young child for the rest of their schooling?
Here is an example of a VPK child being tested in the past. The tester is kind and patient, but notice how the child fidgets. Listen to the noise in the background. Pay attention to the vocabulary she is being asked to repeat. Assessment seems restricted. The child’s ability to speak is micromanaged. She must be polite and answer the questions she is asked. Think how much more confusing this must be online.
Especially troubling, is that if you’re a parent of a 2-year-old, you might get worried by these headlines. It might seem important to begin drilling your child so they will learn their letters and numbers. After all, it seems like a matter of survival!
Children can’t help but detect the nervousness surrounding all this testing. What we’re told, is that the benchmarks in kindergarten are now so difficult, that 3 and 4 year olds better be “kindy” ready. Kindergarten is no longer a “garden.”
Child Development and Penelope Leach
In reviewing Penelope Leach’s book, I was struck that learning to read is never mentioned for this age group. The word “reading” can’t be found in the index. Leach notes that most children get some preliminary experience before starting school, and the importance of reading to children is noted, but there’s no mention of testing either.
What she does talk about is children learning how to play well with each other. Play, as most of us know, is critical at this age.
Learning some self-control is important too, like being able to go to the bathroom on their own (usually always a school requirement). Children need to be able to pretty much dress themselves. This is the time when parents are grateful for elastic-wasted pants, slip on shoes, and Velcro.
But what she highly emphasizes is making sure that this early introduction to school is pleasant. Children need to feel comfortable when introduced to school. She states, “He needs to feel that you [parent], his most basic and trustworthy person, know the school, know the teacher and approve of them.”
So pressuring children with online assessment, or assessment in general, is risky business. It could worry a child, make them fear school instead of like it. Certainly hearing that children are failing at this age serves no purpose, other than destroying any future public funding for preschool children!
Instead of online testing, or any assessment, it would be better if assurances could be given that credentialed early child educators with college degrees were teachers in all preschools. Providing scholarships for preschool workers to go to school would be lovely.
Task forces should also be set up to visit preschools to ensure that children are enjoying learning, and that what they are learning is developmentally appropriate. These task forces should comprise of child developmental specialists and parents who understand the needs of children.
Until this country gets serious about early childhood and what learning at this age should be all about, America will be be guilty of neglect, and years down the road such disingenuous treatment of children will come back to haunt us all.
Penelope Leach. Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age Five. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 422-423.