Letters to the Editor
In her Commentary "Recapturing Kindergarten for 5-Year-Olds'' (May 20, 1987), Harriet A. Egertson described questionable kindergarten testing and grade-placement procedures in Nebraska and throughout the country. Her assessment certainly applies to Oklahoma.
In 1985, the state legislature passed a law mandating "readiness'' screening of kindergartners. As a result, many children in Oklahoma are now being denied access to public education bcause of one test, usually the Gesell. Other children, assessed by the same instrument, are retained or tracked into two-year-kindergarten programs.
When parents question test results and refuse to submit to the school's recommendation to hold out or retain a child or to place him in a transition class, they are often accused by educators of not having the child's best interests in mind. Yet educators have adopted readiness testing and developmental-placement policies in an unquestioning fashion.
As Ms. Egertson indicated, educators are not studying the reliability and validity of screening instruments. She also pointed out that a good deal of discrimination is occurring; thus, equal educational opportunities are being denied to many young children.
But Ms. Egertson did not address another fundamental flaw in developmental-placement procedures, which is that most methods of placement are based on an outmoded theory of developmental psychology that overemphasizes heredity.
Developmental placement, as it is usually practiced today, is based on the theoretical concepts of Arnold L. Gesell, a pioneering developmental psychologist of the 1930's. While Gesell made important contributions to the field of child development, it must be remembered that he was constrained by the assumption that virtually all child behavior is predicated on inborn, biological structures.
The Gesell method of developmental placement says that if a child is identified as unready for school, then his unreadiness is caused by inherited slow development. Parents, therefore, are told that the only way to really help a developmentally immature child is to give him an extra year to grow.
Educators who support readiness testing and developmental-placement policies are choosing to exclude, retain, and track young children, rather than to accommodate individual differences and teach with the best methods of instruction. In doing so, they are ignoring the vast amount of research that indicates that environmental variables do make a difference in child development and school readiness.
Associate Professor of Social Science
Panhandle State University