Home > Uncategorized > Kindergarten Assessments: What Gets Measured Gets Done… and in SOME Cases That ISN’T a Bad Thing

Kindergarten Assessments: What Gets Measured Gets Done… and in SOME Cases That ISN’T a Bad Thing

October 14, 2017

When I read the title of Christina Samuels Education Week article, “Kindergarten Assessments Begin to Shape Instruction”, I immediately assumed I would deplore the content. After all, when assessments drive instruction teachers invariably teach to the test and if that test is a traditional pencil-and-paper assessment one can expect a narrowing of instructional techniques. But the first three paragraphs quickly disabused me of my misgivings and recalled my experience at changing the mindset of elementary teachers in a New Hampshire district in the mid-1980s:

In the not-too-distant past, the kindergarten classrooms at Pleasant Grove Elementary in Heflin, Ala., looked much the same as classrooms for older children.

Desks were arranged in rows. Children worked on worksheets. “There wasn’t a lot of differentiation in your instruction,” said Kristi Moore, a kindergarten teacher at the school, located halfway between Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta. “Most of all your children were taught the same way.”

But in recent years, the school has tried to shift instruction in a way that they say works better for young children. And they credit the use of a comprehensive method of evaluating kindergarten students, called kindergarten entry assessment, as one of the tools that allowed them to do that.

When a colleague and I were appointed to lead a New Hampshire district in 1983, we quickly determined that the early elementary instruction in one of the communities was far too rigid and traditional. Like the Alabama district described in the first paragraph, the veteran first grade teachers and their principal who valued traditional lockstep rote-learning methods dictated the format of instruction in the early grades. We quickly learned that the underlying tension in that school was the result of a tension between teachers on the staff who valued more open and innovative methods and the “traditionalists” and a tension between parents in the community who wanted to see more differentiation and the “traditionalists”. Our workaround was to introduce a pre-first grade “Readiness” level for children who were “not ready” to thrive in the traditional classrooms that required them to sit still for direct instruction and work tirelessly on drills provided on mimeo worksheets. The teachers who wanted to use “non-traditional” approaches supported this effort because they would be able to demonstrate how differentiated instruction could reach children of all temperaments and abilities while the “traditionalists” supported it because their classrooms would be rid of the “troublemakers” who could not adhere to their approach. After the “traditionalist” Principal of the school was replaced by one who championed a developmental approach, the school began shifting more and more to a developmental approach.

The introduction of entry assessments mandated by Race To The Top seems to have had the same influence in school districts where the lockstep factory model was in place— the only element of that misbegotten program that did anything to change that paradigm! The assessment driven approach has some drawbacks, though, as Ms. Samuels notes:

Others have criticized the assessments as an additional burden that doesn’t let teachers know what they should do with all the data they’re expected to collect. And the assessments also raise concerns for some that they’ll be used for high-stakes purposes, like evaluating teachers or sorting children into educational tracks.

It is the use of assessments for sorting and electing that was problematic for us in New Hampshire as well. We realized that the assessment we used to assess “readiness” was imperfect and we therefore used it to guide parents’ decisions to defer entry into first grade or to proceed with entry based on their child’s chronological age. The deciding factor was often an invitation for the parent to look at the configuration of the “traditional” classroom as compared to the configuration of the “Readiness” classroom at which point the parents could determine which approach would work best for their child. Because the assessments were imperfect, we deferred to the parent’s choice… but more often than not the parents saw that the developmentally driven “Readiness” classroom was a better match.

If assessments can be used to reinforce a developmental approach to instruction they can be a force for true reform… but if they are used to reinforce the age-based cohorts that constitute the factory school model, they will be a force for the status quo.

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