Making kindergartners participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a strange idea, and collecting data about kindergartners is worrisome. What’s the purpose?
President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Hoover Institute research fellow and public school critic Michael Petrilli believes testing kindergartners online is easier than having them sit still long enough to do paper and pencil tests. On computers, he believes they can easily punch in their answers while viewing a screen, so they should be able to participate in NAEP testing where they can provide data to testing companies. The NAEP is administered digitally.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) randomly assesses students across the country in math and reading in grades 4 and 8, and in civics and U.S. History in grade 8 and Long-Term Trend for age 9, but it doesn’t test kindergartners. Why should it? Why is the testing of kindergartners necessary? The answer is it isn’t.
. . . the technology for mass testing at the time [pre-computer era]—bubble sheets and No. 2 pencils—only worked if students could read the instructions and the questions, hold a pencil, and fill in their answers. Yes, there have been early-childhood assessments available for decades, instruments like the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, but they require teachers to sit down one-on-one with students while students sound out words, identify numbers, and demonstrate other skills in person. Using those sorts of tests for a nationally representative examination system would have been logistically complex, prohibitively expensive, and politically untenable.
But Petrilli who is no early childhood educator is wrong. The best assessment of this age group is accomplished through observation, by well-prepared early childhood educators who understand the appropriate development of children this age, who can collect observational data through notes and checklists as children play and socialize with their peers.
This is some of the information that is important to observe.
- How do children relate to other children?
- Do they have good gross and fine motor coordination?
- Do they like picture books and listening to stories?
- Are they able to remember simple tasks they’re asked to do?
- How do they think about playing with toys?
They can likely answer questions about rhyming letters and their sounds online, and they might identify short words, but why is this information better placed online than with the child’s teacher?
Who wants all the online information about four and five-year-olds that Petrilli seeks?
The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, by the way, administered face-to-face, gives children individualized preferential assessment and provides teachers with the information they might need to understand a child better, especially children with exceptionalities, which is as it should be. Not all children need such testing.
There is no need for all children to sit for any high-stakes test, or the NAEP which is considered low-stakes, let alone online testing. Massive testing of any kind administered to kindergartners is unnecessary. Still, it has been sold to the public by those like Petrilli, making parents nervously wonder if their four or five-year-old is going to succeed in kindergarten. The stakes become high. Pair this with online data collection, and it raises privacy concerns.
Online data collection and the lax rules have become so troubling to parents that Florida U.S. Representative Kathy Castor is proposing a Landmark Kids PRIVCY Act to Strengthen COPPA, Keep Children Safe Online.
COPPA stands for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and it hasn’t been improved since 1998. The Internet has changed dramatically since then and the proposed law would address the tracking and targeting of children for advertising in order to protect their privacy (Lerman, 2021).
Along with data collection, kindergarten pressure, and turning it into the new first grade, you can see how NAEP kindergarten results would unfairly push students beyond their capabilities, another way to unnecessarily blame public schools and teachers for failing.
How does such testing hurt kindergartners?
- It isn’t developmentally sound.
- It places undue pressure on children.
- It wastes their time.
- It displaces a professional teacher’s expertise.
- It unfairly and inaccurately tracks children online.
- It wastes money.
Assessing kindergarteners became a thing with NCLB and even earlier with the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk. As far back as 1983, kindergarten testing was seen as harmful but sold to the public as necessary (Perrone, 1991).
NCLB made it sound like the earlier the testing, the better, and children by third grade would all be reading well. As many knew then, we all know now, that high-stakes standardized testing does not make children learn better.
The NAEP may provide helpful information, but it seems odd to use for kindergartners.
Why do we need more information about four and five-year-olds who are getting their first taste of school? Not only is data collected on our youngest learners, but it makes money for testing companies.
Petrilli’s push for massive testing illustrates this. He is promoting iReady, MAP, and Curriculum Associates NWEA.
Curriculum Associates and NWEA have done what the NAEP designers may not have considered: created standardized tests for students as young as five. Banish from your head images of kindergarteners filling in bubble sheets. Instead, imagine kids playing an interactive game, much as they would on an educational app or website, during short testing sessions with plenty of “brain breaks.” The i-Ready and MAP Growth fall kindergarten assessments may look like games, but they also work to gather data that thousands of school districts use to identify student needs, spot trends, and target instruction.
These programs come with controversy (See i-Ready Sells 50-Years-Old Education Failure by Thomas Ultican).
Americans who truly want kindergartners to do well in the future need to back off with the testing pressure and let children learn naturally, introduced to formal schooling with well-qualified teachers to work at that grade level and who understand how they learn.
Lerman, R. (2021, July 29). New bill would update decades-old law governing children’s privacy online, add protection for teens. The Washington Post, Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/07/29/coppa-update-teenagers-online/.
Perrone, V. (1991). On Standardized Testing. Childhood Education, 67(3), 131-142. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00094056.1991.10521597.
Dorothy Scanlan says
I could not agree more! And I’ve never been in favor of all-day kindergarten. I’m glad my kids just missed that change.
Nancy Bailey says
And now kindergartners don’t usually get naptime! Thanks, Dorothy.
Roy Turrentine says
“Why should it? Why is the testing of kindergartners necessary? The answer is it isn’t.”
Nor is the testing of anyone. Tests are completely vacuous of any worth. From their ill-begotten questions to the fabrication of the resulting data, no good has come of their use. Time to throw it all out.
Nancy Bailey says
I would respectfully argue a little here because especially coming from special ed. I think some tests can provide teachers information, even the NAEP as I have been reminded, but using it to collect info. involving kindergartners is ridiculous. And all the online data collected on children involving high stakes state standardized tests has been terrible for children, teachers, and public schools. Even the NAEP is often used to disparage teachers for poor results.
Tests have been so politicized, but now everyone should be worrying about online embedded assessment and how it’s being used to collect data on the youngest learners. Even the NAEP is online.
Because tests are used so badly, I would somewhat now agree with your point.
I can’t say that NAEP gave me any useful information for working with my special education students. I agree that testing DESIGNED FOR THE PURPOSE was useful in creating a profile of a particular learner. NAEP did not add anything to that case study process that aided planning for that student.
The idea that a computer assessment, especially one that is required, is necessary to a kindergarten or preschool program is laughable. I can’t figure out what Petrilli’s “expertise is, but it certainly is not early childhood education.
Nancy Bailey says
I don’t remember NAEP results helping me as a teacher either but assumed it may have provided some special ed teachers info.
I thought it interesting that Petrilli thought the PPVT would be useful for all students. How unnecessary.
And discussing the NAEP today with a knowledgeable parent who excels at researching data, it is interesting to compare the old NAEP with the new online version. I think online assessment is concerning at most age levels.
Thank for your comment. Always appreciated.
Sheila Resseger says
Only a person who has zero understanding of children and how they learn could possibly believe that a gamified digital assessment could tell anything of value about a young child. As a teacher of the deaf, I administered reading, language, and writing evaluations one-on-one in preparation for students’ IEPs. Yes, this was time-consuming, but it provided useful insights into each child’s abilities and needs. a pox on data mining/tracking/profiling via opaque algorithms via NWEA or iReady for the profit of corporations. Children need human teachers who engage them, observe them, and create meaningful curricula. Petrilli should read Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner to learn how an inspired teacher reaches difficult to teach students by engaging their passions, not by bean-counting the words they recognize. This digital/testing trend is dehumanizing.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Sheila! Very well-said.
Nancy Bailey says
My thanks to Diane Ravitch.
Gregory Sampson says
Even at the high school level, I’ve watched students that I know have mastered the content struggle to show their mastery on a computer test. The interface gets in the way. Only two days ago, I was talking with a Geometry teacher who was describing the trouble her students were having with the drag-and-drop questions on the practice test (EOC). I said, “They have to position the drag so that the box turns dark blue. That’s when they’re on the hot spot and the computer will fix the answer in the box.” She says, “I know, but they’re having trouble. They know their proofs, but they can’t get the statements to stick in the right place.” If high school has trouble with the computer medium, I can only imagine and tremble how much worse it is at the younger ages.
Nancy Bailey says
How unfair! There should be an alternative assessment, like the old fashion kind, to test students with these difficulties. Or teachers and administrators should ditch the computer testing altogether.
This is a serious point, Gregory. Thank you for sharing.