Friday, August 29, 2008

Testing Kindergartners

Ok, I am truly baffled. I just read this piece in EdWeek on NYC's plans to test kindergartners in math. The article says that the city wants to spend $400,000 to test a program that gives kindergartners math tests that can take up to 90 minutes to complete.

As a researcher I can see why we need to test the youngest kids in order to get baseline data. But I'm confused about a few things, including:

1. Exactly what math knowledge are kindergartners supposed to have? I remember counting in kindergarten and that's about it.

2. Why in the world would it take up to 90 minutes to test students on such a limited base of knowledge?

3. What sane person would expect a kindergartner to sit still for 90 minutes to do anything, yet alone take a multiple choice test?

I'm tempted to declare this a sign of the apocalypse, but there's got to be some information missing here. I must be missing something. Right?

Update: Another article is now up on CNN. Also, the commenter kiri8 points out below that kindergartners do a lot more than count -- I stand corrected. But even with the list that they provide, I still doubt the utility of such a long test and now wonder how useful baseline data would even be.


Kate in OK said...

A few years ago I swore I would retire if I ever saw an algebra objective for the kindergarten level.

Well, I have seen them, I am sad to say. And...I didn't quit. I just put more effort into building alternative schools to rescue the increasing number of kids who don't fit into the pressure cookers that we are turning schools into.

kiri8 said...

Kate, algebra objectives for K would actually be something like making patterns with unifix cubes, which all kindergartners are capable of doing.

90 minutes of assessment seems over the top, but by the end of the year, it is reasonable for kindergartners to count to 100 by 1's and 10's, make ABAB patterns, recognize and name a variety of shapes, measure with nonstandard measurement (ie. how many unifix cubes tall is this chair?), count 20 objects accurately using one-to-one correspondence, write the numbers 0-30, and so on.

There is quite a bit more to "counting" than...well, counting.

KindergartenKrazy said...


I am going into my third year of teaching kindergarten. This past year my kids did participate in a 80-90 minute multiple-choice standardized test. I too was amazed that they would have to be a part of it because that seems like a lot to expect of a 5 year old, but I found that they could do it and did well.

To answer your questions:
1.) With the new common core math standards kindergarteners are learning a lot more than just counting. They are learning addition and subtraction through 10, identification of 2d and 3d shapes, decomposing of teen numbers, number patterns in the hundreds chart, and word problems.
2.) The test my kiddos took was a maximum of 90 minutes, but was done in two separate chunks. It took so long because it was almost 60 questions and was done on the computer. They had to listen to each question, each possible answer, and then try to figure out the right one. Children who did not have that stamina, were pulled individually at later times to complete it.
3.) It was a lot to expect a 5 year old to be able to sit that long, but for the most part they were engaged and could sit for two 40 minute chunks.

I think what needs to be looked at here is not necessarily the craziness of this expectation, but what teachers need to do in order for kids to be successful and how this assessment can guide instruction.
Prior to taking the test my class practiced answering questions online and in the same format. We practiced building stamina and talked about what that meant. I gave clear expectations of what it should look, sound, and feel like when taking the test and how to calm their bodies down or take a break if it got too hard.
The important thing to note is that this assessment is simply a baseline to work off of and is more for the teacher than the student. As I said, we took the test 3 times a year. After each I analyzed test data, looked at overall areas of improvement, areas in which scores were low, and specific students scores. This then showed me what I needed to re-teach or focus on in whole group and how I could change the objectives in my small math groups.
Assessments are not simply put in place to take and then forget about. They are there to help structure lessons and units. And surprisingly (at least for my class), as the year went on most kids would have been able to complete the test in one sitting. If you have high expectations the kids will usually meet you there, and expecting them to be able to take a 90 minute computer-based test at the start of the year is certainly a high expectation

-Ashley R.