New York City Begins Standardized Testing of Kindergartners

New York City has come up with a new plan–to give standardized tests, some as long as 90 minutes, to kindergartners. Earlier this week, the New York Daily News ran my op-ed opposing the idea.

Mayor’s plan fails our kids

Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to give standardized tests to students in kindergarten through second grade is pure folly. It’s bad enough that students in third grade, at age 8, undergo high-stakes testing. To start down that path with 5-year-olds is insane.

Bloomberg, in blasting critics of his plan, says, “It’s not easy to test a 5-year-old. But the alternative of not testing a 5-year-old is an outrage.”

Bloomberg has it backward. It’s testing that’s the outrage.

Testing isn’t only useless, it’s harmful. Any parent of a 5-year-old knows this. If the mayor had spoken to parents, he would know, as parents or early child educators know, that young kids simply can’t sit still for a 90-minute test. Nor would the results be very accurate.

The mother of a child starting kindergarten at a midtown public school tomorrow told me that the mayor’s plan is “ridiculous.”

“Call any random person in the city,” she says, “and they’ll tell you no 5-year-old can do that.” She’s right – young children can barely sit still for five or 10 minutes at a time. That’s why good teachers are always changing activities, kids get time to play and teachers ask the children to stand up for a few minutes and “get out the wigglies.”

Unfortunately, kindergarten already bears little resemblance to the “children’s garden” created by German educator Friedrich Fröebel in 1837. Gone from many New York City schools are the block area and the dressup area, the sand and water table and recess. Instead, children are ordered to sit quietly at their desks, listen to scripted learning programs and focus on academic skills. Adding standardized tests to this routine would complete the dismantling.

“The mayor’s plan is awful. Kids this young find tests and test-driven instruction completely foreign to their natural ways of learning. Their love of learning will be shot,” says Prof. Bill Crain, who teaches psychology at City College.

Indeed, young children learn best through play. They have a natural curiosity that should be nurtured, not squashed. And since children develop at different rates, it makes no sense to require all early elementary students to be on the exact same page at the exact same time, especially in kindergarten.

If we mandated that all babies had to walk and talk by the time they were a year old, society would be in an uproar. So why do we lose all common sense when our children walk through the front door of a school? Why do we expect them to lug heavy backpacks, sit still, give up play and rest time, and endure worksheets and drills?

Instead of piling on more and more tests when our children are young, we should learn from the example of Finland, where children don’t start formal education until they are 7. By the time they’re 15, though, those students outperform students from every other nation in reading skills and are among the highest scorers in math and science.

For now at least, the mayor’s pilot program is voluntary, and so far less than 10% of school principals have signed on. But in those schools, parents and teachers should opt out. Teachers should follow the example of San Diego kindergarten teachers, who, several years ago, rebelled against a school board requirement that kindergartners climb seven reading levels in one year. The teachers refused to adhere to such irrational expectations.

Indeed, implementing the proposed standardized tests would violate the New York State Code of Ethics for Educators, which requires teachers to “nurture the intellectual, physical, emotional, social and civic potential of each student.”
And parents, too, must take a stand on behalf of their children. If we want our children to become analytical, creative, ethical and independent thinkers, we must refuse the standardized tests and prep time that stand in the way.

5 thoughts on “New York City Begins Standardized Testing of Kindergartners

  1. Here, here! My son started K this year. He’s already had his first standardized test (called a DIBELS here). He did great on half the test, terrible on the other half, probably because he either didn’t understand or couldn’t sit still!

    Since the test, he’s fought going to school every morning and has been acting up in class. He has no recess, only PE which he is often made to sit out because he’s not following directions. So instead of getting his energy out, it gets even more bottled up! He says he hates school now, although in preschool, with less structure, he learned a lot and loved it!

    Add to that that he’s now getting homework – nothing “major” but homework nonetheless. He actually kind of likes doing it – maybe because we let him talk and work at his own pace – but I might still have to insist on it not being mandatory. I don’t necessarily want to be the trouble-making parent, but something has to change. My son is losing his love of learning, and I can’t stand by and let that happen.


  2. Testing for kindergarteners, no recess, PE taken away as punishment, and now homework. Boy, I can’t think of better reasons to homeschool!

    Short of that, I do hope you speak up, and fast. I understand you don’t want to be the parent who makes noise. But learn from some of our mistakes, those with older children. Do speak up. You can do it calmly, authoritatively and firmly. But I do urge you to find a way. The risks of not doing so far outweigh any benefit to remaining silent. The problem does not go away.

    As for homework, my daughter loved it too, at first. Like you, I was so careful not to do any further damage to her love of learning. Afternoons and weekends found me doing damage control from the week at school. My daughter liked homework in the lower grades too, at first, because she loves to learn. Children are hard wired to learn.

    Until she got a teacher who rewarded homework completion by….Giving a HOMEWORK PASS! Meaning seven days of consecutive homework gets you a day of no homework! There’s a positive message about learning. Also, the reverse occurred. If you didn’t do your homework, you got punished by getting more of it. Thus teaching my daughter early that homework is yucky, a bitter bill to swallow.



  3. Jerri Ann, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. Our comments or the original entry? Are you finding the demands on the kindergarten child too absurd to even read, or Sara Bennett’s piece in the New York Daily News?

    Help!!! Please clarify.



  4. Jerri Ann, sorry. I just caught your comment on a later post and I get it. Yay, you’re on our side! So if I understand you correctly, New York City mayor Bloomberg’s entire proposal is so absurd, it almost defies reaction. But thank god for Sara, who went ahead and did what makes us all cringe – having to dignify something so ludicrous with a response.

    I agree. Just getting through the idea made me swallow hard. You really have to wonder — just who is in charge here?



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