Friday, April 22, 2011

Testing the testing waters

So. Monday (April 25). The topic is Formal Testing and Assessment in Kindergarten. If you do a quick search of the hashtag, you will see: there is quite a bit of buzz about this topic. People are coming who do not usually join us when we discuss glue management (If you don't know why we would need to discuss that, you clearly have not taught kindergarten for long enough). Some of those "people" are companies who CREATE standardized tests. Some of them are schools who believe in those tests. Some of them are teacher advocates who berate the tests. Most are teachers who use the tests against their own better judgement, because they have little choice. Surely you can see the potential for mudslinging and finger-pointing, just as clearly as I can.

Before I go on, I think I need to air some bias: I am a Canadian. I attended Canadian schools. I now teach in a Canadian school. We do not have, use, accept, believe in, standardized testing as it is used in the US. The thought of kindergarten students being subjected to this kind of testing makes me ill. I think it has no business in a classroom. Related: I think BUSINESS has no business in a kindergarten classroom. Hmm, now that I think about it, that last sentence nicely sums up the reasons that the thought of Monday's chat is already kind of giving me a stomachache: it seems so very difficult to discuss testing without it turning into a discussion of The American Education System and Everything That is Wrong With It and How It is Everyone's and No One's Fault, All at the Same Time. Believe me, I definitely have some opinions about all of those things, but the entire debate is so huge, so complicated, and so deeply personal for so many people that it often overwhelms me. I am fairly certain I am not alone in my overwhelmed-ness.

So, in preparation for the upcoming chat, please let me clarify: Our topic for Monday is NOT educational reform. It is NOT a debate on the relative merits and flaws of charter/public/private schools. It is NOT a discussion of No Child Left Behind, or of Race to the Top. We will not discuss whether Bill Gates is or should be a relevant figure in the efforts to "fix" America's schools. We will not discuss the definition of "good teacher" vs "bad teacher," nor we will discuss unions, merit pay or the value of seniority. If you want to request a #kinderchat about any of those things, we will consider it, but this Monday, we have only 1 hour, so let's make it a good one.

Our chat is, and remains, a community primarily composed of teachers, teaching kindergarten, all over the world. We welcome and embrace non-teachers, whether you are administrators, non-profit groups, specialists, authors, artists, parents, student-teachers, or private enterprise. However, our priority in all of our topics is to address the experience of teaching kindergarten. That said, our conversation for Monday will use the following definition:

Standardized testing refers to the administration of externally-created (i.e. not by teacher or school district), norm-referenced, tests or assessments that are given to all students in your grade level.

With that as backdrop, let's frame our discussion around these questions: 
  • Do you/are you required to administer standardized tests in your kindergarten program?
  • Which tests do you use, or have you used? (Please remember when dropping acronyms that our chat is an international group, and it is helpful to provide links or full titles, at least the first time you mention a test.) What is the best/worst test you ever administered?
  • What curriculum areas/developmental domains do those tests address? Do you feel those tests provide meaningful feedback to you as a teacher on children's skills and progress?
  • What is the testing experience like for the students? 
  • Do you feel the tests themselves are developmentally appropriate? Is it possible to do standardized testing in a group situation in a developmentally appropriate way?
  • Does the presence of testing affect what/how you teach?
I want to be clear: I am not opposed to our chats including opinions (Lord knows, I myself would not be safe or welcome in a place where opinions were not allowed!), and I think there is value in providing a forum for a variety of viewpoints. As we approach this complicated topic, which is so closely linked to  some pretty inflammatory issues, let us remember some things I wrote as the lead-up to our last potentially controversial topic:
  1. No teacher, school, board, district, city, or country, is handling these issues perfectly.
  2. Everyone participating has a genuine desire to improve their own practice and policy.
  3. Everyone participating is willing to answer questions regarding their classroom practices and policies.
  4. Everyone participating is doing their very best to ask questions in an open and respectful manner.
  5. In spite of the limitations of 140-character text communication, the default "tone of voice" in the chat is warm, curious, genuine, and respectful.
We are, according to many, "the nicest chat on Twitter." Let's prove them right.


1 comment:

  1. To organize my thinking, I am replying with a comment. It reflects our school/district policies. We are merging our work and assessments into what may someday look more like a charter school curriculum.
    We have state mandated testing for upper grades 3-6, covering Eng. Language Arts, Math, Science/Tech/Engineering.
    None of the state wide tests apply to K.
    Grades 1-6 have Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessments 3 times a year.
    In kindergarten:
    I administer Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessments at the end of the year only.
    There are targeted reading levels to be mastered by the end of each grade.
    I administer some of their optional assessments 3 times a year for letter ID, segmenting, rhyming, and initial sounds.
    The optional assessments help to identify areas of need and strengths for each individual student.
    I also do an the Observational Survey assessment for concepts about print several times.
    I previously used DIBELS but dropped it when our district called for the FP mentioned above.
    With the exception of the Benchmark assessments which suggest a student's reading level for the grade 1 teachers, all other assessments inform instruction.
    If by standardized testing you mean a tool that is done simultaneously throughout the state with results reported to the state, then no, we do not do any.
    Unlike other grades, I cannot even imagine giving a room full of 5-6 yo any kind of test all at once. All of the assessments I use are given one student at a time. They would be unable to sit, listen, follow directions, work that independently, not look at the work of others, etc. It would not be a valid assessment in any way.
    Does the fact that I am using some standardized (created by a business and given to all K students individually) assessments change the way I teach? Absolutely. I make sure I hit the targeted points. In some ways this improves learning. In others, I fear I am spending way too much time just doing the assessments and not teaching.