Monday, October 3, 2016

Because we can, does it mean we should?

First, let me say that I believe that schools should be held accountable. Those of us who teach and those of us who lead schools need to be able to demonstrate that we make an impact, that the hours' spent in our classrooms really do matter.

This is important. For ourselves. For our parents. But most importantly for our students.

However, can we take this too far? Can we know when we have crossed the line and made accountability more important than it should be?

I think I know the answer to that question. Last week, I think I saw good teachers in my district step over the line. They were just doing what I told them to do. They were not being mean or evil. They were following my direction. Good intentions gone wrong. Perhaps.

Last week I watched kindergarten children take a standardized, online assessment. Our district does this for all students in grades K-10. We assess in the fall and in the spring. We do it for the noblest of reasons. We want to establish a baseline so that we can measure growth over the course of the school year.

But just because we can assess kindergarten students using an online assessment in the first month of school, should we?

The first month of school is important - especially for kindergarten students. During the first month, routines are established, culture is created, attitudes are formed. Should we take the time that is required to give the online assessment or invest that time in continuing to create a positive classroom culture?

I have been on the side of assessing our kindergarten students twice a year for some time now. For the past five years, we have assessed kindergarten students in the fall and in the spring. I have advocated that this is important. I have championed the idea that the data we receive from this assessment helps us focus our instruction. I believe that this data makes a difference.

But, what if I have been wrong?

Last week I was in a building and watched as kindergarten students took the exam. For the most part, it appeared to be going well. Many students have handled laptops or ipads before. The online assessment was, for them, not stressful or difficult.

But there was one young student for whom it was not going well. The assessment was too long, the work was not meaningful, the experience was, obviously, frustrating.

And, it made me stop and think?

Perhaps, assessing kindergarten students in the first month of school with an online assessment is not good practice. Perhaps, instead of taking this time, I should instead trust that teachers will gather the information that they need to create meaningful literacy lessons in more authentic classroom literacy activities.

Instead of using September to communicate to kindergarten students that testing and assessment will be part of their school experience, perhaps I should instead encourage teachers to read with students, talk with students, write with students. Perhaps I should encourage meaningful, authentic classroom literacy activities that will engender a love of reading and a love of writing in my kindergarten students.

The online, standardized assessment could probably wait until spring. Kindergarten students would be older, they would have used classroom technology more frequently, and their experience in the classroom over the course of the year would have prepared them to take the online assessment more successfully.

I don't know the right answer.

What I do know is that just because we can doesn't necessarily mean that we should. Especially when it comes to kindergarten student assessment.


  1. AMEN!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you Dr. Matthews for the voice of reason.

  2. While I appreciate your words, I feel it is necessary to point out that teachers have been saying this for years...and nobody would listen. My question is, what will the district do to change this practice. It's easy to "talk the talk" but much more difficult to "walk the walk".

  3. Hallelujah! Now, please continue questioning this practice with 1st and 2nd graders. We used to have 2nd graders take standardized tests for the experience - to get them ready for the 3rd grade MEAP. After teaching 1st/2nd grade in Novi for 20 years, I can tell you that for many 2nd graders, the fall standardized testing experience is just as stressful and frustrating. They simply do not have the stamina to sit at a computer for 45 - 60min. After comparing the spring scores to the fall scores, I found it more a measure of their maturity/stamina than their academic knowledge. It was a major contributing factor to my decision to leave the classroom. I now teach students mindfulness skills to help their social/emotional learning and to help them deal with the stress of our modern lifestyles.

  4. Additionally... what does Fall testing really tell you for Kindergarten since they come in to the school at such different levels? My youngest could count and add money by 5's and 10's before entering kindergarten. His wonderful teacher noted that his very high math test score in the fall did not "help" her since it would most likely not improve over the year. She noted that in kindergarten she needed to make sure the kids had a good foundation of the basics... (how to hold scissors, color in the lines, act responsibly in the hallway, sit for reading time, routines, reading basics, hand-writing, etc.). He had a wonderful year in kindergarten, he grew significantly and his math RIT score was exactly the same on the Spring NWEA.

  5. As a parent of 2 Novi students and a school psychologist, I completely agree. There's really no need to test the kids at this age. I was actually shocked when my kids started here and found out they'd be tested from the start. I don't think it's developmentally appropriate. Kindergarten is about setting the tone for learning, teaching routine of the classroom and having FUN. I'm glad you're rethinking this.

  6. I knew my Kindergartener was getting tested last week, and am shocked to hear it was on the computer! I figured it would be a verbal question and answer test. You're right that some kids may have zero experience with a computer, and having them sit and answer questions for a long period of time is not the best use of time and could be extremely frustrating. And the teacher, above, has a good point for 1st and 2nd graders, as well. If you implement a quick assessment that teachers do in the beginning of the year and the spring (which I assume they're doing for Parent/Teacher conferences, anyway), it would be more valuable all around. Thank you for being open to changing a long-held opinion. And please continue to be in classes and be "in the field" to see how policies and practices are working with the children.

  7. Also some school put more effort on the spring test, like notify parents weeks ahead and ask to let students get good night sleep.. etc. While in september tests, parents are not even aware of it. I guess the improvements from the fall to spring test are used to review teachers and shool performance?

  8. How are teachers being held accountable when students are not growing/ improving over the course of the school year? Assessing kindergartners aside, there should be some accountability on behalf of the teachers and students for improving/ experiencing one-years growth.

  9. As a parent of three current Novi students, one of them being a kindergartner, I couldn't be happier reading this. I think that when children enter kindergarten so much is new, routines and their corresponding expectations, classmates, teachers, etc., adding in a formal assessment such as this seems out of place and unnecessary. It even comes across as detrimental - taking time from other much more important ventures. I am hopeful that this reevaluation leads to some true changes in practice.

  10. As a Parent who had two kids in Novi I believe that testing K students in Sept is not the right thing. I speak from personal experience as when my daughter started K in Novi she did not have prior experience from a pre school and it was unfair to put that much stress on a young mind. With guidance from teachers and work at home by Spring she was well above average. However, in Oct even her teacher put too much focus on assessment and pressured us that she need to know all this and I was surprised as I always thought that expectation from a K student is to be able to work, have fun and start on to the path of learning and not come to K as a learned. I strongly support eliminating assessments in Sept and trusting teachers to determine what students should learn and than assess in Spring.

  11. I just have one kid and she just started her kindergarten.In that sense, it was kind of my first experience with this kinda of assessment, which, honestly speaking, I was not prepared for, and that too 3 weeks after the start of the school.Really?? Few points, I would want to be heard is :
    - Since we strive really hard to keep off our kids, off the gadgets. It was kindof shocking to learn that it is the computer based assessment.My daughter has never used any ipads, computers or phones till date.I am sure her first experience with computers and that too for an assessment was kind of overwhelming for her.
    - If you want to schedule an assessment, it shouldnt be at the start of the school by somewhere between halloween and ThanksGiving and that too a paper-pencil based test.
    - You dont really know, how the assessment go. You never have the first hand report for your child. Not sure, how this could be of use.

  12. wonderful and useful informative article,thanks for sharing something like this article.

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