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NCLB Outrages

Too much, too soon

Ohanian Comment: This kindergarten teacher gives a detailed, first-hand account of how misguided and destructive NCLB is.

Lorie Smith Schaefer

ďA child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.Ē Groucho Marx

Carson City kindergartners are the latest victims in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability madness. Children for whom merely sitting quietly and paying attention for 15 minutes is a challenge are being asked to sit and listen to their teacher read multiple-choice questions to them for 45 minutes. Twice. Once for language arts and once for math.

These tests are supposed to tell me whether my students have learned what I have taught them. As if I didnít know by watching and listening every day. As if I didnít know that while one child counts to 100, another canít get past 12 without help. As if I didnít know which children are reading real books and which ones canít seem to remember more than a few letters.

Whoever is making these decisions---and let me tell you, itís not teachers--- isnít interested in what I observe every day because it doesnít fit into little boxes on a spreadsheet. Moreover, no test publishers make any money off my observations and assessments. Nope. If isnít a multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble test, well, it just isnít a ďrealĒ test.

ETS Pulliam, purveyors of such tests as the GRE, SAT and PRAXIS have convinced the school district that they know better. However, in spite of searching and asking, I could not locate any reliability and validity statistics on these kindergarten tests. Even the ETS website (http://www.etspulliam.com/ ) admits that there is ďno significant data available yet.Ē Trust us, they say. We know what weíre doing. Honest.

The format of the test leads me to believe that although ETS may be experts at assessment, they know little about five- and six-year-olds. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org ) sets forth guidelines for the testing of kindergartners. The ETS Pulliam test fails to meet most of them. Primarily the test does not look like anything kindergartners have ever seen in their school lives. The type is too small and there are simply too many words on the page. Moreover, it does not rely on a collection of work or teacher observations, nor does it inform instruction.

Furthermore, because the method used to gather this data on kindergartners is so questionable, the data we do get may not be worth whatever the school district is paying for it. It may not even be worth the paper it is printed on.

For example, a paragraph is read to the children. An accompanying bar graph (A bar graph? In kindergarten?) presents some data. The children then turn the page (with some assistance) and listen as I read questions about the graph (which they are told to look at, but we just turned the page, so we have to turn backÖ and now what page are we on? Teacher, my tummy hurts.)

Iíve also been told, not to worry; the results of these kindergarten tests are not going to be used for report cards or for class placement. Iíve been told that they are merely another tool in my professional tool kit. Thatís a nice metaphor except that if it were truly just another tool, Iíd be the one deciding whether to use it or not. I have not been given that choice.

The only essential standard that this test might measure is listening. It doesnít even address ďfollows simple oral directions,Ē because there arenít any directions. Not even any sample items to practice. I could go on, but you get my point.

Parents and teachers want and expect children to learn a lot in kindergarten. Teachers can and do measure that growth in a variety of ways with collections of work, observations, rubrics and yes, even a few real tests. However, those tests look more like what we ask children to do in school every day. They are consistent with best educational practices, but sadly donít fill little boxes on spreadsheets.

A large part of what we teach in kindergarten continues to be social skills and attitudes---getting along, listening to directions, following rules and (I hope) loving school. You know, the big stuff? Compared to test taking, anyway. However, as US Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings says, ďWhat gets measured gets done.Ē I worry that teachers of young children will be forced to focus more and more time preparing for inappropriate, poorly constructed tests, short-changing the essential skills that do not show up on those tests---the ones that show up in life.

Being kind to each other, following group norms and working together are how we function successfully as adults. If children donít learn those lessons early, it wonít matter that they learned to read in kindergarten. We will have failed them.

Lorie Smith Schaefer teaches kindergarten at Seeliger Elementary School.

— Lorie Smith Schaefer
Nevada Appeal


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