An increasing number of schools are now beginning to administer standardized tests to students as early as kindergarten, Reuters reports.
And the trend shows no sign of reversing. A new exam meant to make sure that kids are on track to succeed in college or a career upon graduation from high school is on the way as well.
At least Paul Weeks, who in his capacity as the president of ACT Inc knows a thing or two about standardized tests, realizes that the idea of testing kindergarteners for career readiness might sound odd at the time when most aspire to be superheroes, since the exams the company is rolling out are unlikely to detect incipient x-ray vision skills. Yet, Weeks is very serious that the exam, which is meant to be administered yearly between the ages of 8 and 18 will serve as a good predictor of post-high school success, and which seeks to identify development in skills vital to that success such as critical thinking.
"There are skills that we've identified as essential for college and career success, and you can back them down in a grade-appropriate manner," Weeks said. "Even in the early grades, you can find students who may be at risk."
More than half of states now require exams for kindergarteners, with many localities even adding their own tests to the mix. Those who support continuous assessment via standardized exams believe it helps those kids who fall behind early because it can identify them and provide intervention to get them back on track. Waiting to find those kinds of students could mean that there's a higher chance that they'll never catch up.
Opponents, on the other hand, believe that the stress that testing places on kids who could be as young as 5 years old negates the hypothetical benefits derived from the exams.
Formal tests give a narrow picture of a child's ability, said Samuel Meisels, president of the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in Chicago focused on child development. He urges teachers instead to assess young children by observing them over time, recording skills and deficits and comparing those to benchmarks.
But Meisels fears such observational tests won't seem objective or precise enough in today's data-driven world; he says he too often sees them pushed aside in favor of more formal assessments.
"I am worried, yes," he said. "We should know better."
This isn't the first time that enthusiasm for testing children has taken hold. It was a common practice in 1980s to test incoming kindergarten students to make sure they were ready for the work. This eventually fell by the wayside after child development experts condemned the practice as unreliable and unfair. Yet, it has been reborn, especially after No Child Left Behind Act, passed during the presidency of George W. Bush, directly tied student test scores to assessment not just of teachers but of their schools as well.
With the stakes so high, many administrators have decided to start testing in the earlier grades, to give kids practice and to identify students who need help.
The Obama administration accelerated the trend in 2011 with a $500 million competitive grant to bolster early childhood education. States that pledged to assess all kindergarteners earned extra points on their applications.