I used to be excited at the first day of kindergarten.
When I was 5, I couldn’t wait to learn about letters, sounds and counting.
Once I got there, I loved coloring inside the lines and cutting along the solid black line. I remember looking forward to rest time, recess, snack, playtime and show and tell.
My wonderful memories of kindergarten influenced my decision to return to kindergarten, only this time as the kindergarten teacher.
Again, I was excited. This time, I couldn’t wait to meet the new kids, and to open the windows of knowledge and creativity for them.
Unfortunately, I found that kindergarten had drastically changed for the worse. Kindergarten post-No Child Left Behind is being turned into a maze of tests. As a result, many young children instantly dislike school. Worse, they are made to feel like failures from the start.
I have spent the last seven years teaching 5-year-old kindergarten for Milwaukee public schools. During this time, I have seen a huge increase in the amount of testing and data collection.
The students in my classroom during the 2008-09 school year completed the following list of assessments:
— Milwaukee Public Schools 5-Year-Old Kindergarten Assessment (completed three times a year)
— On The Mark Reading Verification Assessment (completed three times a year)
— A monthly writing prompt focused on different strands of the Six Traits of Writing
— 28 assessments measuring key early reading and spelling skills
— Chapter pre- and post-test for all nine math chapters completed
— Three additional assessments for each math chapter completed to monitor progress
— A monthly math prompt
— Four Classroom Assessments Based on Standards (CABS) per social studies chapter (20 total assessments)
— Four CABS per science chapter (20 total assessments)
— Four CABS per health chapter (20 total assessments)
Despite President Obama’s criticism of standardized testing during his presidential campaign, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top policies have further pushed many schools, particularly those in urban areas like mine, to the point of data-drenched obsession.
In the process, we have precious little time to spark a curiosity about the natural world, or to engage their artistic bents, or to inspire a love of learning, or to impart crucial life skills, such as being able to get along well with others.
Everything, even in kindergarten, now takes a back seat to the child’s reading or math proficiency level.
And that includes playtime. In far too many circumstances, young children are removed from playtime for more test-taking instruction. This is precisely the wrong thing to do if we’re interested in the healthy development of our children.
As Edward Miller and Joan Almon point out in their case study, “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,” research shows that children who get regular playtime “have greater language skills than nonplayers, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean. They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking.”
We are placing impossible demands on our 5-year-olds, who are often contending with dire circumstances at home.
During summer school and the regular school year, I barely went a week without one of my students sharing that a family member was robbed or shot or killed.
I regularly had students complaining about being hungry because they didn’t eat breakfast at home due to lack of food and they didn’t make it to school in time for breakfast here.
I had kids complain about being tired because they weren’t able to sleep, since their family is homeless or their apartment is overcrowded or there is too much noise in the neighborhood.
Yet these children are expected to be ready to put all these issues behind them so they can learn to take standardized tests?
I’m still excited to meet my new 5-year-olds.
But I’m left wondering how much longer I can continue to “teach” under these circumstances.
Kelly McMahon teaches 5-year-old kindergarten for the Milwaukee public schools and serves as a kindergarten/primary representative on the Milwaukee Teacher’s Education Association. A version of this article appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of the quarterly publication Rethinking Schools. McMahon can be reached at email@example.com.
You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.