At the Chalk Face: Testing and Monitoring in Kindergarten

The picture in this article about new testing protocols for Kindergartners in MD reminds me of this memorable exchange from Shawshank Redemption:

Red: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.

1967 Parole Hearings Man: Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…

Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me, it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?

The part in bold is most important. Here you have one of the legions of specialists, consultants, coordinators, auditors, whatever, ensuring “readiness” or “fidelity,” or some other made-up word that excuses the perpetual culture of surveillance in schools. Sometimes it feels like I’m on parole with how many people walk in and out of my room checking not just on me, but my colleagues as well.

But to get to the other issue here, that of testing Kindergarten. Fortunately, the amount of testing I implement is relatively little. I’m required by the District to use TRC and DIBELS. Now, I don’t mind it all that much because it takes me all of five minutes, maybe ten tops, to assess students. I try to get it done so that everyone just leaves me the hell alone. Honestly, I can minimize the impact and disruption it causes if I plan it right and build efficiencies in the way I do it.

We can have another discussion about whether or not the information gleaned from the assessments actually helps me do my job. For now, I have no idea, even with my background, what I’m supposed to do with a single number that tells me how many letter names a kid can identify in a minute. Seriously? It tells me nothing.

In any event, I’m trying to imagine the practicalities of a 40-minute per student assessment in K. If this is a twice a year, pre and post situation, then the impact is much less. But these tests usually require periodic formatives throughout the school year that lead to further disruptions. I can imagine that this is probably the case, although I can’t be sure.

I’m just trying to imagine this. So, I have 20 students. At 40 minutes roughly a pop, that’s 800 minutes, or about 13 and a half hours of testing. My students are very hands-on, so I even find myself struggling to assess each of them for the compulsory 10 minutes, but 40?

Let me think. I have an hour and 45 in the AM then special. We’re back at 12:30 after lunch and recess. I’m alone until a little after 1, then that leaves another two hours or so. At best, if I have to do 40 minutes, it’ll take me about two weeks to get all of these kids tested according to the Post article. That pulls me out of the classroom for 80 minutes a day for two weeks. If this is the beginning of the year, how much am I missing in establishing routines? Probably quite a bit. Then, if it takes two weeks to just get a baseline, how long is it before a check-in is required to assess for progress?

My research chops are a little out of practice, but I’m pretty confident that this is probably one of the worst ways to implement an assessment to acquire valid and reliable data.


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Shaun Johnson

After four years in higher education, Shaun Johnson now teaches Kindergarten in Southeast Washington, DC. Shaun earned his PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana University and researches and publishes about gender in education, social studies, and education reform. He blogs at @ the Chalkface.