Are We Expecting Too Much from Kindergarteners?

With limited seats available in top-quality public schools in many larger districts, a trend is occurring that shouldn’t surprise most educators.  Parents are hiring tutors to prep their pre-schoolers for screening tests. In Chicago, for example, 13,058 applications are on file for 1150 seats in the city’s gifted and classical schools.  “I was blissfully naive about how this all worked when my older daughter tested for first grade,” said Shannan Bunting. Even though with no special preparation her daughter made it into Decatur Classical Elementary, a top-scoring school, “we realized we couldn’t do that for our second child and just hope to be lucky,” she said. This year she hired a former Montessori teacher to tutor her preschooler on everything from learning continents to sounding out words.

Author Karen Quinn, who developed the “Testing for Kindergarten” program agrees that parents should have the opportunity to prepare their children for the rigors of formal schooling.  “So much of it is exposure to concepts,” said Quinn, who sells a $300 Candyland-like test-prep game she developed. “If they’re practicing the kinds of questions that are on these kinds of tests, they will be more prepped than a child that goes in cold.”

But many early childhood experts are not so sure.  Many feel that a new emphasis on testing and test preparation is hurting the youngest students. Earlier this year, the nonprofit advocacy group Alliance for Childhood, based just outside Washington, D.C., issued a report titled “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in Schools,” drawing from nine new studies of public school classrooms around the country. kindergarteners in the studies spent four to six times as much of the school day being drilled in literacy and math as they did playing.

An outstanding article in the Boston Globe recently discussed the growing trend toward more academic kindergarten education and debate surrounding the issue. 

What do you think?  As a parent and now grandparent of a 3-yr old, I certainly want my Ethan to have every opportunity to achieve to his potential.  Of course I want him to be a the top of his class academically, but I also want him to enjoy childhood.  I realize that kids develop at different rates, and I don’t want him pressured to perform in an area in which he might simply not be old enough.  I want him to be a kid!  How do parents and schools walk that balance?

And on a broader, policy-based perspective, what about those pre-schoolers who don’t have homes with the resources to afford a $300 program to prepare them for the best schools?  Shouldn’t we be providing that rich, quality learning experience for all children? Should we even be differentiating children at such an early age by academic ability?

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About mprater

I'm a recently retired school teacher/administrator continuing to help people grow through personal learning. When not blogging, I do consulting work for schools and organizations, make presentations at conferences, and research for publication. At the same time, I have to set aside enough time to enjoy the "good life" of retirement!
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3 Responses to Are We Expecting Too Much from Kindergarteners?

  1. Well said, Mike. I’m the co-author of “Crisis in the Kindergarten,” and I would add this to your good piece: those kindergarten screening tests are meaningless. They do not measure children’s knowledge, ability, skill, or anything else. Standardized testing of four- and five-year-olds is so unreliable and invalid that the results of such tests are no more accurate than flipping a coin. Every psychometrician (testing scientist) in the world will tell you that, except the ones who work for the testing companies that are making billions of dollars from this disgusting and immoral scam.
    Ed Miller, Alliance for Childhood

  2. hrmason says:

    Kindergarten testing is like any other type of testing…it’s not the test that’s bad, it’s the way we are using it. My daughter had a prescreening which basically checked to see if she went to preschool (letters, numbers, shapes and colors). She is not placed in any advanced class even though she scored perfectly on it. The other tests throughout the year are used to test progress. The big problem is they are also used to test teachers ability to teach my daughter. I am from middle sized community where most parents send their kids to a zoned school. Our schools of choice are decided by lottery, not assessment scores.

    The bigger problem with this phenomena is that is shows parents have been convinced that it is the test, and only the test, that matters.

    • mprater says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that the testing isn’t necessarily bad- it’s the way we use the test results. Also, the impression that we can give parents with the testing. I’ve seen parents devastated when their child didn’t score at the “gifted” level in kindergarten. I’m not sure what “gifted” means at that age! Children, especially young children, develop at such different rates. We need to put the message out to parents that, as you said, the test isn’t the total measure of the achievement of the child. My best wishes are for you and your daughter. Sounds like she has a great mom!

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