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
BY SARA BENNETT
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.