Kindergarten Testing: Too Much Too Early?
> 9/6/2006 9:31:08 AM

In yet another variation on the overworked American children theme, Newsweek's most recent cover story focuses on new trends in testing the performance of our youngest students. Parents and teachers alike see kindergarten, long focused on construction paper and field trips, shifting slowly toward a world of increased testing and academic pressure; in order for their kids to perform at standard levels in reading and math, educators feel the need to highlight these skills earlier and more exclusively, and their methods invite controversy.

For kids as young as six, school now entails homework, regular testing and voluntary tutoring. Some of these practices arise from a growing well of concern among those responsible for young children. In addition to the central childhood issues of social development and physical health, parents may begin considering college placement long before previous generations, due mostly to a perceived heightening of academic competition. Some may intentionally delay a child's kindergarten entry, as those who wait longer consistently perform better than their peers. Are such practices appropriate, and will they eventually expand the educational gap between members of disparate socioeconomic classes? How can we best maintain a balance between the pressure to perform at established standards and the schooling our kids need to adapt socially and emotionally?

While some argue that exercise, social studies and arts education deserve greater attention from the appropriate advocacy groups and legislators, such programs will inevitably suffer as attention rests more heavily on reading and writing tests. Measures of student progress also become more stringent with the No Child Left Behind plan's threats of decreased financial support for unsatisfactory schools. Many bright children thrive under such conditions, but certain less affluent school districts predictably find it harder to keep up. Retention rates have also increased in recent years. Responding to these trends is a growing market for educational tools aimed at younger kids, from books and videos to private instructors.

Some believe that the renewed focus on elementary and primary schools comes at the expense of older students. TOL Ed previously reported on the trend of underperformance among middle and high schoolers, many of whom do not receive the degree of attention paid to their younger counterparts. Are we focusing too heavily on the early school years as a time for assessment? Fortunately, our collective knowledge of learning techniques continues to grow as we dismiss simple poverty and other social factors as the roots of learning problems. While we can all celebrate the fact that increasing numbers of American children move beyond secondary education to better compete in a changing world, early measurements of performance do not guarantee long-term success, and all concerned parties should very carefully note the real-world implications of this slightly modified approach as they continue to develop.

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