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Experienced teacher Nancy Baileyto kindergartners. Petrilli, who is president of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Petrilli recognizes that the typical 5-year-old can’t read and probably can’t hold a pencil but thinks there is value in online visual tests. He argues that it’s a mistake to delay NAEP until 4th grade, because policymakers are “left in the dark” about what children know by age 5.
Grades K–3 are arguably the most critical years of a child’s education, given what we know about the importance of early-childhood development and early elementary-school experiences. This is when children are building the foundational skills they’ll need in the years ahead. One report found that kids who don’t read on grade level by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school later on. Why do we wait until after the most important instructional and developmental years to find out how students are faring?
Petrilli assumes that knowing test scores leads to solutions. I question that. We have been testing random samples of 4th and 8th graders (and sometimes seniors) since the early 1970s, and the information about test scores has not pointed to any solutions. After 50 years, we should know what needs to be done. We don’t, or at best, we disagree. Since 2010, test scores have been stubbornly flat. Does this mean that the Common Core and Race to the Top failed? Depends on whom you ask. It’s hard for me to see what educational purpose would be served by testing a random sample of kindergartners online.
Bailey doesn’t see what the purpose is. She points out that Petrilli was never a teacher of young children. He never was a teacher, period. He is an author and a think tank leader who champions conservative causes.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) randomly assesses students across the country in math and reading in grades 4 and 8, and in civics and U.S. History in grade 8 and Long-Term Trend for age 9, but it doesn’t test kindergartners. Why should it? Why is the testing of kindergartners necessary? The answer is it isn’t.
Suppose we learn that 52% of kindergartners recognize the color red. Suppose we learn that 38% recognize a square. Suppose we learn that 63% recognize an elephant. So what? Why does any of this matter?
The best assessment of this age group is accomplished through observation, by well-prepared early childhood educators who understand the appropriate development of children this age, who can collect observational data through notes and checklists as children play and socialize with their peers.
Who needs the information that might be collected about a random sample of kindergarten children? What would they do with it?
It’s a puzzlement.