- Deseret News - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

For the first time the state of Oregon has tested all of its incoming kindergartners to measure mastery of early reading skills.

The results are “sobering,” the governor said, while others argue that measuring performance of 5 year olds is absurd, a symptom of an educational system with an identity crisis.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber called the results “sobering,” The Oregonian reported.

And yet, while the state seemed disappointed with the results, no one seems really sure what they should have expected.

“We would hope they would know most of their letters and many of their sounds,” said Jada Rupley, Oregon’s early learning system director. But The Oregonian then noted that Rupley had acknowledged state officials had no idea what scores would be considered adequate and may, in fact, never establish such guidelines.

The push to test incoming kindergartners is a logical outgrowth of the testing regimes begun under No Child Left Behind and now ratcheting up under Common Core, writes Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post.

Not only is Oregon testing incoming kindergarteners, it’s timing them, too. The literacy portion of the test was timed as one minute, The Oregonian reported.

Will Parnell, an associate professor of early childhood education at Portland State University, told The Oregonian in an email teachers should do more listening and less testing.

“Frankly, I am not certain why we would subject young children to timed testing when a natural predictor for staying in school is a desire to want to be in school,” he said. “I imagine timed tests can create anxiety and reduce a child’s interest in the meaning of school before they even start.”

Those concerned that the bureaucrats are sucking the life out of education will not likely be reassured by the dry explanation offered by the Oregon Department of Education for the testing program.

“This fall school districts implemented the new statewide Kindergarten Assessment in early literacy, early math and approaches to learning,” The ODE website states, “The assessment was designed to focus on domains that are strongly linked to third-grade reading and future academic success as well as to align with current assessment practices in Oregon’s kindergarten and elementary schools. The information is intended to provide a snapshot for communities and schools on the fluency, numeracy, and approaches to learning skills that students have when they enter kindergarten.”

While Oregon’s government seems to take for granted the formal testing of entering kindergartners, other experts are far less confident in the approach. A recent paper by Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem at the University of Virginia takes a hard and balanced look at the early education push.

“For some kids,” the authors write, “learning to read in kindergarten is just fine. For many others it isn’t. They just aren’t ready. In years gone by, kids were given time to develop and learn to read in the early grades without being seen as failures. Even kids who took time learning how to read were able to excel. Today kids aren’t given time and space to learn at their own speed.”

“Very few people are talking about the kind of education that would be offered — other than declaring it should be ‘high quality.’ And that phrase is often interpreted to mean ‘high intensity,’ an accelerated version of skills-based teaching that most early childhood experts regard as terrible,” Bassok and Rorem conclude.

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