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.
Lisa M says
Several years ago I asked an acquaintance why she gave up her thriving daycare business that she ran out of her home. Her reply was that the state (MD) was asking her to do “more” and she wasn’t a teacher, had no desire to become a teacher and wasn’t willing to go along with the new mandates. They wouldn’t renew her license if she didn’t comply so she gave it up. This all started when the universal pre-K started. Goddard schools and Young schools seem to be doing a bang up business in the area, so I guess the state got what they wanted in the long run. I’m not sure how Goddard and Young schools are run, but my guess is that they are prepping for the new kindergarten.
Nancy Bailey says
I am for credentialing teachers of young students in early education, so I am not sure if I agree with you, Lisa. Also, currently many preschools are privately run or are in parochial settings.
John Mountford says
I watched the video with mounting horror and disbelief. The relentless, detached formality displayed has no place in early years education. I acknowledge your concern that when children fail such testing, it could threaten future public funding for preschool children but it goes much further than that. It undermines the very essence of early years education which should have at its core the developmental needs of very young children and should provide an enjoyable experience they will take with them through life.
If the kind of approach seen in this VKP video does not engender anxiety in many children I would be very surprised.
The impact we are having on the wellbeing of our young people is becoming clearer with every move aimed at making systems more politically accountable, as this blog from Debra Kidd indicates. In doing this we are failing and, as you write, .”years down the road such disingenuous treatment of children will come back to haunt us all.”
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for the link, John. How incredibly sad. There seems to be no end of making students feel bad about themselves through poor instruction. Somehow we’ve got to bring back the joy in learning.
Roy Turrentine says
Why do we insist on stacking children of any age? Is it because business wants to have a good idea of who not to hire? Perhaps it is to appease parents who want their children to have a head start in the race for a few jobs that are left.
Ranking children, their schools, and their communities is a loathsome act. We need a better society, not a top ten list. Leave that to the college sports and David Letterman.
Nancy Bailey says
Yes to all of this. Thank you, Roy.
Richard Melling says
As a k teacher in Oregon who is forced to administer a scripted, standardized test each fall (usually within 20 minutes of meeting a student), I can attest to how depressing and dehumanizing for child and adult this process can be.
On a bigger note, my colleagues and I seem to be seeing a major increase in behavior issues among our kindergartners. It is very hard to tease out what might be normal variation, fallout from the increase in child poverty, or technology induced changes in childhood. I keep wondering whether part of roots of the behavior issues we are seeing might be that these tests are achieving their goal (at least here in Oregon) of infusing preschools with more academics (and, as a natural consequence, less play based discovery).
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you for sharing your firsthand experience, Richard. The following report “Crisis in the Classroom” is older, but relevant. It matches your observations. Sadly.
Chapter 6 page 42.