Preschool the Latest Front in Standardized Testing Fight

Although outright opposition to standardized testing is not as widespread among parents as opponents would like to believe, many do think that such testing should used somewhat less, especially in earlier grades. That is why one parent group is so vehemently fighting against a proposal by the Washington D.C. charter board to produce a ranking of district pre-schools based in large part on students' scores on mathematics and reading tests, the Washington Post reports.

According to board members, publishing such rankings would help parents because it would allow them to see how well each charter pre-school stacks up against other charters in the area. The ranking would also aid the school staff, and make reaching the students' proficiency goals easier by providing helpful road markers charting the students' progress.

But as of Saturday, more than 200 parents had signed a petition asking the board to take a broader look at school quality and put more weight on the social and emotional development they want to see emphasized in their children's schools.

"People are going to focus on what is measured," said Luba Vangelova, a parent who spoke against the plan at a public hearing this month. "This is going to steal time away from the things that really matter, like play and exploration."

The parents who signed the petition are not hoping to stop the testing of pre-schoolers altogether — they would end up disappointed if they were, as that ship sailed a long time ago – students as young as 3 are being tested in a regular basis around the country. However, the issue of how those test scores should be used is far from settled. And that is where the petitioners hope to have an impact.

Federal laws require that students' standardized test results be turned over starting in 3rd grade. However, some believe that this is too late to start worrying about how students are performing. If students are struggling to meet proficiency benchmarks by that time, getting them up to speed is going to be much harder – and more expensive – than it would be if the problems were caught earlier.

Traditional D.C. public schools are taking a different approach to assessment. They evaluate how students are developing in areas that including language, literacy, math, social, emotional and physical skills.

They use test results to improve instruction and inform parents — not to rank the schools, said Danielle Ewen, director of early childhood education for D.C. public schools.

If children don't develop the motor skills to climb up a slide, they are likely to have a difficult time holding a pencil, Ewen said. If they struggle to follow directions, they are unlikely to do well on a reading activity.

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