Testing 3- and 4-year-olds is newest front in Louisiana school accountability
In later years, the program could be mandatory for every publicly funded pre-school in the state.
Is testing young students appropriate?
The pilot program will assess pre-schools with two tools: Classroom Assessment Scoring System (
Partnersinclude the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation )and a system called Teaching Strategies Gold.( Fully aligned with the Common Core State Standards) (emphasis added) The first sends an independent observer into the classroom to evaluate teachers on their interactions with students.
The more provocative Teaching Strategies Gold will test the performance of 3- and 4-year-olds themselves. They won't have to darken ovals with a No. 2 pencil on a standardized test answer sheet, however. Instead, their teachers will be grading them throughout the school year on 38 developmental goals ranging from counting and learning the alphabet to "solves social problems" and "interacts with peers."
Assessments are to be done every few months in an "authentic" setting, with children participating in activities that bring out qualities on which teachers then rate them. Students will be graded on a scale of 0 to 9.
Testing toddlers.In testing toddlers, Louisiana pre-school staffers could use Teaching Strategies LLC forms such as this example to evaluate 3- and 4-year-olds.
Both tools have been used in individual school systems in states such as California and New York, though not on the scale that Louisiana is proposing. Federally funded Head Start programs in Louisiana already use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System to assess teachers, though the results do not go into a rating system.
Some experts have questioned whether Teaching Strategies Gold can effectively measure a pre-school's ability to improve student performance.
"What you will want to see is that children are moving on that continuum, you want to see that children are constantly growing and developing in those areas," Karrie Kerns, director of early childcare and education at Agenda for Children said. "From my perspective, it hasn't been made clear exactly how the state is going to use that data at this point."
Jonah Stuart, spokesperson for Teaching Strategies LLC, said the program was created with accountability in mind. "We obviously want to make sure that assessment is being done in an appropriate way, and we feel this type of assessment where the child doesn't even know they're being assessed is the most appropriate way to go about it," he said. "The question of should young children be assessed, that's not the whole picture."
Jeffrey Lockman, a developmental psychology professor at Tulane University and editor of the journal Child Development, commended the state for taking early childhood education seriously. But he worried that testing of any kind at such an early age might stifle creativity, and that teachers might begin to "teach to the test."
To the extent that these standards encourage teaching to the test ... learning to learn might be sacrificed." -- Jeffrey Lockman, Tulane professor.
"One important goal that should be promoted in early childhood programs that's a little hard to get at in assessment batteries is the idea of learning to learn," Lockman said. "You want programs to encourage curiosity, creativity, especially at these ages, and that's a little tougher to get at. To the extent that these standards encourage teaching to the test even at the pre-school level, learning to learn might be sacrificed."
Lockman also worried the initiative might put undue responsibility on centers for the performance of children. "I think the data will be useful, but at the same time what's going on in these child-care programs depends also upon what's going on in the home and how much stimulation is going on in the home," he said. "These child-care programs are not supposed to be a substitute to the home environment; They're supposed to be a complement."
State officials say the pilot will be working to engage parents in the process. Teaching Strategies Gold lets parents see their child's progress and suggests how they can supplement development at home.
Participants showing enthusiasm so far
In New Orleans, the pilot will be coordinated by the non-profit Agenda for Children. In St. Tammany, participation will be coordinated by the public school system.
White said the aim is to put control in the hands of local leaders, with the state setting universal standards. Local parishes will be in charge of coordinating a uniform system of enrollment and allocating funding.
At Little Feet First Day Care in Slidell, director Ronata Llopis said the staff is enthusiastic, stating the need for greater accountability and unification within the system.
In New Orleans, some participants, while they agree with the need for more accountability, worried that implementing the new testing strategies might cause financial strain on the pre-schools or families enrolling. That could happen if the state adds new rules in later years and requires participants to pay for it.
"I think it's really going to help us to move the standards of quality for child care up very high," Christie Givens, director of Kids of Excellence child development center in New Orleans said. Kids of Excellence has already independently been implementing Teaching Strategies Gold to test its childrens' progress.
"My only concern about all of this is it's costly and very expensive," she added. "That's where the problem is going to come in. Then parents might not be able to afford it, it's a big cost that'll be put on us."
The pilot program, which the state will be implementing with a $2.6 million grant, is set to begin in August. State officials hope that by next year, it will add more school systems and that by the 2015-16 academic year, all will be participating and a rating system will be in place.
"We've got to find the happy medium between accountability and giving kids and parents and teachers the data that they need to progress," White said. "I've certainly heard the concerns about accountability for student outcomes. I understand it, and that's why we're piloting.
"But if you have no accountability, you have a situation where only half of four-year-olds are prepared for kindergarten."
Sarah Tan with Ohanian Revelation
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