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February 19, 2014

Forcing Kindergarteners to take standardized tests is cruel

How can you expect kids who don't know how to use a mouse or a computer or how to read to do standardized tests? A New York and Chicago Mom Discover What Standardized Rigor Really Means for Their Children | Missouri Education Watchdog
I recently volunteered to be on the frontlines of testing. I offered to help during the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test administered to my daughter’s kindergarten class. For two days the teacher needed to be pulled out of the classroom along with all of the kids. They would be set up in a room with computers where the test would be given. Parents were needed to act more or less as proctors during the test, being on hand to assist with the equipment, then acting as runners to take the kids who had completed the test back to their classroom. In the classroom a paid for out of the school’s meager budget substitute teacher would be waiting to receive them. At no point during the MAP testing were the parents or the teacher permitted to help a kid arrive at an answer. They were there to help with the temperamental computers and to escort the kids back to their classrooms. Period. Unless you have been around kindergarteners lately, it is easy to forget just how tiny they are. They are little itty-bitty people. They still have little teeny tiny teeth in their mouths. Many still have slight speeches issues, an ever-facing aural link to their toddler selves. After a bloodless injury like a bumped knee or pinch finger, they still wail pitifully for a band aid, still believing with all their heart that band aids make boo boos feel better. Kindergartners are indeed students, but awfully pint-sized students. So on the day of this MAP test, all these little peanuts sit down in chairs, each in front of a computer. They have all been here the day before, day one was used to test their “reading” skills. I am there on day two, which is assessing math skills. No one’s feet touched the floor. Their hands are smaller than the mouses they hold. They are instructed to put on their headsets. The headsets are meant for adult sized people, not teeny people. I notice that for most kids, the headsets were way too big. If these kindergarteners had been built by Dr. Frankenstein the headsets would have hung down to the two bolts coming out of their necks. Few kids complained or sought help though. Maybe they had done so the day before? Most either let them rest below their ears or used one hand to hold an earpiece on one ear while their other hand held the mouse. Optimal listening conditions it was not. My daughter did say to me “See mom, they don’t fit. And when the person on the computer starts talking, I can’t hear what they are saying.” Well, then, that could sort of skew a result couldn’t it? “Deal with it as best as you can” I said. “Hold it on one ear and listen on that side.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I tried to do that yesterday,” she said. “I can’t really hear.” She turned back to her computer. Even five year old’s are self conscious of crying in front of their peers. I would imagine, that for many five year olds, this MAP test would be the first time in their lives that they could not talk through problem with an adult, or have an adult use different words that would help them better understand a problem. I understand that the testing field has to be equal, but I am here to tell you, it just feels wrong for a child so young not to be able to ask for clarification. Here is an example of what I mean: One question on the MAP test asked the kids to choose the picture that best represented something divided into three equal parts. “I don’t understand what divided means. What does that word mean?” a little girl asked me. “Ahh, I’m sorry. I can’t tell you.” I said. Her little face looked up at me confused and somewhat betrayed. “Why? Why can’t you tell me? Because you know I really don’t understand what divided is. I need your help.” “I’m sorry.” I said feeling like the slug adult I was “I can’t help you with that. Do the best you can.” I saw a couple of kids choosing the wrong answer to that problem and I wondered if those answers were being recorded as the students not being able to recognize three equal parts when they see it clearly drawn. I HOPE what was noted was that at age five they don’t understand the robust vocabulary word “divided” because that, in fact was “the problem”, not their ability to visually ascertain equality of shares. Other hands were being raised asking for help. “This mouse doesn’t work. See I want to pick that answer,” a little boy said pointing to a spot on the far left hand corner of his screen. “But this mouse won’t go there. It’s broke.” I looked down at the mouse. The boy had moved it over to the left on the table, but his hand and the mouse had hit the keyboard, stopping the mouse from moving any further. “Here” I said. “When that happens you need to pick the mouse up, move it in the air over this way, set it back down, and move it on the table again.” I picked the mouse up, moved it to the right set it down, and showed him how he could then move the curser to the left once more. “But I don’t want to move it that way”. He said pointing to the right. “I want to move it this way,” he pointed to the left. “I know it seems weird.” I said. “But when the mouse won’t let you move it on the table you need to pick it up, fly it through the air and set it down again.” Is five too young to learn the concept of counter intuitiveness? Hey kid, slow is fast, less is more, you got to be cruel to be kind and you have to move the mouse to the right in order for you to then move it left. This “broken mouse” scenario played out several times, and remember, these kids had taken the test the day before, so I would imagine even more of them had this problem during the previous test. Another hand goes up “Something happened” a little girl said. “I don’t know what this is,” She pointed at the screen. She had gotten herself into “preferences.” I took the mouse and said “Let’s see if I can get you out of here and back to your test.” I clicked onto the “close” button. Click. Click. Clickclickclickclickclickclickclick. It took a half dozen or so clicks before the window closed and the little test taker with the big bow in her hair was back to her assessment. This was played out again, and again and again, throughout the duration of the test. In a perfect world, where all the computers worked, testing conditions would be less frustrating. But it’s the real world, and a five year old could click on the wrong thing, and accidentally leave the test. Even when they do click on the button they want, the computers don’t always respond to their commands. I know it’s a computer or mouse glitch, but I can’t help but wonder how many of these kids think it’s their fault. I heard “I can’t do this” frequently. “Yes you can”. I said. “You are doing great. It’s the computer, not you.” The preferences or options screens were accidentally opened quite often. Other computer issues complicated the situation too. Some kids had to leave one computer and find another one, or switch out mouses. Computers fail, it’s a fact, but a lot of these little people felt the fault was theirs. In the midst of all of this, I walked past my daughter. She looked up at me, her face red from crying, I could see that tears had been collecting at her collar “I just can’t do this,” she sobbed. The ill fitting headsets, the hard to hear instructions, the uncooperative mouse, the screen going to command modes, not being able to get clarification when she asked for it… her little psyche had reached it’s breaking point. It took just two days of standardized testing for her to doubt herself, quickly trading a love of learning for the shame of incompetence. Later on when I picked her up after her long seven-hour day, she whispered into my shoulder “I’m just not smart mom. Not like everyone else. I’m just no good at kindergarten, just no good at all.”