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Nancy Bailey's Education Website: Kindergarten Online Data? Teacher Observation is Safer and Better!

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.

Petrilli says:

. . . 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.

References

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-teena….

Perrone, V. (1991). On Standardized Testing. Childhood Education, 67(3), 131-142. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00094056.1991.10521597.

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Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has authore...