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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

State Ed. Agrees to Ban Standardized Testing in Pre-K to 2nd grade?

By Peter DeWitt — November 17, 2013 4 min read
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(Photo courtesy of NYSUT)

There was a time when students were taught how to take a test. They were taught what questions to do first, how to find the best answer, and how they should support their argument. After all, tests are a part of life, and all students have to be prepared to take tests in college or for civil service jobs.

When high stakes testing began in New York State in the mid-90’s students in 4th and 8th grades had to take an ELA and math exam. A few years later it changed to 3rd-8th grades, and the tests expanded from ELA and math to...social studies and science.

Social studies exams were dropped, and because of budget cuts the state began to outsource the exams to 3rd parties like Pearson. That evolution of standardized testing has been around for many years, so there is not wonder that it has crept down to pre-k through 2nd grades.

On Thursday, November 15th the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) held a conference call with a teacher, parent and principal to discuss the harmful effects of standardized testing in Pre-K through 2nd grade. Yes, you read that correctly. Schools in New York State are giving standardized tests to kids between the ages of 4 (perhaps even 3) and 7 years-old.

According to Karen DeWitt, “United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said its “absurd” that the groups are even in the position of calling for a ban on standardized testing for children in pre-kindergarten through the second grade.”

For full-disclosure, and if you read DeWitt’s (no relation) full article here, I was the principal who took part in the conference call. Jeanine Smith, a first grade teacher from Long Island said that her students do have to take standardized tests on computers. If you have ever taught first grade, which I have, you understand how problematic it is for those students to make it through a test on a computer.

Smith went on to say that the school’s reading teacher has to give the test to students because in New York State teachers are not allowed to test their own students on tests that will be counted toward their yearly evaluation.

DeWitt went on to say,

State Education Commissioner John King, in a written response, put the responsibility back on the individual school districts. King says the state has never required the testing of young children, and that teachers unions and school administrators should get together and come up with a better way to evaluate teachers in the early grades that does not involve standardized tests."

Late Thursday, the State Education Department released the following statement,

There are no pre-K - Grade 2 standardized tests administered or required by the state, and there never have been. Decisions about how to measure student progress in pre-K - Grade 2 are made by local school districts. However, we strongly recommend against the use of bubble tests or other traditional standardized tests and urge districts and their bargaining units to identify other ways to assess learning progress for these very young students."

Leonie Haimson, the Executive Director of Class Size Matters asked, “If the state does not require this why wouldn’t King support such a law barring standardized exams in preK-2 then?” Commissioner King has been supportive of the law that requires teacher and administrators be evaluated using standardized tests.

Student advocate Tory Frye wrote, “Research shows that kids at these ages develop at much different rates, making any attempt to rate their teachers through growth scores even MORE unreliable than the attempt to do this for teachers in other grades - which as you know is already quite unreliable.”

The state does require Student Learning Objectives (SLO) in each grade level, which make up 20% of a teacher’s evaluation, as well as locally-developed measure (i.e. BOCES created assessment) that make up another 20% of a teacher’s evaluation.

There are schools that choose a standardized test because it helps prepare young children for when they enter third grade and have to begin taking high stakes tests. Sadly, yes...there are schools that prepare students at a young age on how to take a standardized test. That is directly related to standardized tests being tied to teacher and administrator evaluation.

Slippery Slope

It was a welcomed announcement that the N.Y. State Education Department (SED) does not support the use of standardized testing in pre-k through 2nd grade. Unfortunately, this is what happens when testing is tied to teacher and administrator evaluation. Schools begin to think that their students will “perform” better on high stakes testing in 3rd - 8th grade if they start preparing them just a little bit earlier for the tests.

Standardized testing in pre-k through 2nd grade is a byproduct of the testing movement. It’s like test prep. The Commissioner said he does not approve of overwhelming test prep but schools push more of it so they have a chance of performing better, even though there is not research supporting the use of test prep.

What are NYSUT and the UFT asking for?

  • We are calling on Governor Cuomo, the New York State Legislature, and the New York State Education Department to ban pre-K to 2nd grade standardized testing.
  • The excessive use of standardized testing has shifted the focus away from quality teaching and learning, which is vital in the pre-K to 2nd grade years.
  • The years between pre-K and 2nd are crucial to developing students’ cognitive skills, building their educational foundation, and instilling in them a love of learning. Bubble tests do not accomplish any of these goals.
  • Research has shown the 85 percent of brain development happens during these years, and excessive standardized testing is an inappropriate and counterproductive use of time in pre-K through 2nd grade.”

The UFT, NYSUT and other education advocates around New York State,

are putting forth a petition calling on Governor Cuomo, the state Legislature, and the New York State Education Department to ban standardized testing in pre-kindergarten through second grade. The education groups supporting this ban include: the Alliance for Quality Education, the United Federation of Teachers, New York State United Teachers, Citizen Action of New York, etc. (outreach to groups to include in the release showing broad consensus of support)."

A ban on pre-k through 2nd grade is an appropriate start to an inappropriate byproduct of standardized testing. A moratorium on 3rd -8th grade testing while schools implement the Common Core would be better.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.