"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

So You Think Universal Preschool is Wonderful? Do You Want 4-Year Olds Labelled as "Underachievers"?

Standardized testing may be coming to a preschool near you because of RTTT mandates.

When George Bush pushed for early childhood standardized testing, there was an outcry:

On January 17, 2003, The Washington Post published a Page 1 story (that I wrote) about the Republican Bush administration’s plans to give 908,000 4-year-olds in Head Start programs nationwide a standardized assessment to see how much they were learning.

Critics howled. Early childhood development experts said preschoolers are too young to be evaluated by standardized tests in part because they don’t have sufficient ability to comprehend assessment cues. The plan was shelved.

Now, as the Obama administration is pushing the same agenda, it doesn't garner a peep:

Flash forward eight years. Today it’s the Democratic Obama administration that is pushing standardized assessments for preschoolers. Not only is there no loud shouting, but a gaggle of states are going to battle each other for the right to win federal funds that will help them implement the second wave of Race to the Top, early childhood version.

Remove the hyperpartisanship and you can see what's happening here. It doesn't matter if a Republican or a Democrat pushes for standardized testing for 4 year olds...it's wrong to label young children. Be careful what you wish for and what the DOE wants your state to provide. Universal preschool and kindergarten may place your child in a box he/she won't be able to escape:

There is something disturbing about an early childhood education initiative that doesn’t seem to take into account how young children learn best. Where, for example, is the priority about ensuring that all early childhood programs provide creative opportunities for kids to explore and learn? That’s how they best learn, myriad child development experts have said for years.

The institutionalization of standardized assessments for young kids threatens to turn preschool into an academic environment that is too regimented for youngsters.

I know a girl who, when given an aptitude test at age 4, refused to answer the questions because she just didn’t feel like it that day. That’s the way 4-year-olds act sometimes. She was scored as essentially having the aptitude of a monkey. That’s the way standardized assessments are, and that’s no way to judge a 4-year-old.

The NEA should reconsider its early endorsement of Obama and Duncan's plan for education. Maybe, just maybe, the Republican candidate would say "no" to Race to the Top mandates. Preschoolers would not be subjected to standardized testing, but instead, could indeed have a time in their lives to explore their creativity and be a child instead of being targeted as human capital.

Why is it permissible for Obama to endorse standardized testing for early childhood students but Bush got politically crucified for the same plan? Strauss' article from 2003 is talking about the same issues we are debating today in 2011. The administration has changed but the pertinent issues are identical:

But some local program directors questioned whether it is possible to create a standardized assessment that is valid and reliable for 4-year-olds across the country, including those with special needs and non-English speakers.

Craig Ramey, a co-director of the Center on Health and Education at Georgetown University who is heading the group creating the assessment, acknowledged there are "a limited number of high-quality, usable tools" on the market but that his panel would find what works.

"Will the system be perfect?" he said. "Of course not. Nothing is."

Ramey's panel is working with Westat, a research company being paid $1.8 million to help develop the assessment.

An outstanding issue is who will administer the assessments. Ramey said teachers would be involved, but suggested some might be tempted to cheat. "The simple way to game the system is to have kids not do well in the fall and do well in the spring," he said, adding that independent verification was key.

Ramey likened the new system to industrial "quality assurance" programs.

"What we are bringing to Head Start is not different from what you encounter when you go to buy a car," he said, noting that car buyers trust that companies maintain quality from plant to plant.

Some local directors, who asked not to be identified, said they feared that federal officials would use data from the new system to eliminate programs that don't do what they want.

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