It’s Never Too Early to Teach Kids to Hate Learning

New York’s high-stakes testing regime has now metastasized to kindergarten. Really (boldface mine):

Because of a tough new curriculum and teacher evaluations, 4- and 5-year-olds are learning how to fill in bubbles on standardized math tests to show how much they know about numbers, shapes and order.

Teachers said kindergartners are bewildered. “Sharing is not caring anymore; developmentally, it’s not the right thing to do,” said one Queens teacher, whose pupils kept trying to help one another on the math test she gave for the first time this fall.

“They’re scared. They just don’t understand you’re supposed to bubble in next to the answer.”

I always thought some of the criticisms of testing were overblown, but when you’re screwing up some very basic lessons for small children about how to be a decent human being, you’re doing it wrong. Because you know what we need? More selfish assholes. Onward and upward (boldface mine):

Administering the exams is a complete headache, teachers said. “They don’t know how to hold pencils,” said a Bronx kindergarten teacher whose class recently took the Pearson exam. “They don’t know letters, and you have answers that say A, B, C or D and you’re asking them to bubble in . . . They break down; they cry.”

… But teachers said testing this way is slow and traumatic. Trying to get a proper answer was next to impossible. “We said to color it in with a pencil, so they were taking out crayons,” said a veteran teacher on Staten Island. “I can tell when a student needs help. I don’t have to give them a test.”

This is just nuts. It’s not only useless in terms of evaluation, but actively harmful to children. Someone–or many someones–need to be fired over this. Actually, they should be sealed up in barrels with ravenous weasels–which would be cruel to the weasels.

I can’t even comprehend how any human being could possibly think this is a good idea.

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14 Responses to It’s Never Too Early to Teach Kids to Hate Learning

  1. Physicalist says:

    Anecdote of Agreement:

    My child’s second-grade class was taking an exam. (Not a standardized test, but the lesson still applies.) One child was trying to help the child in the next seat (a child still learning English) with a question he was having trouble with.

    Laudable behavior that should be praised, a reasonable person would think.

    Unfortunately the teacher wasn’t the best of the lot. She freaked out and confiscated all the children’s tests (to show how bad “cheating” is). I don’t know whether her attitude was affected by the fact that in third grade they start taking the MCAS exams, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

    My son, who was proud of how hard he’d studied and how he did on the exam, smuggled his exam out of school to show us. Can you imagine that? A kid having to smuggle his school work out in his jacket?

    Fortunately he has much better teacher this year.

  2. evodevo says:

    There IS a way to test them on learning goals, but it certainly ISN’T this. My son was in a federally-funded day care from infancy through Kindergarten back in the early 80′s, and they tested individually, one on one, orally (oops, that doesn’t sound so good!) several times a year. They made it fun for the kids, and they actually LIKED testing because it was done right. And I bet their results were WAY more accurate than it sounds like these are.

    • Mike Smith says:

      “oops, that doesn’t sound so good!” How old are you? Its hard to believe you are a parent. You’re talking about 4yos!!!

    • baa20baa20 says:

      I have been an early childhood educator for more than 25 years, and a kindergarten teacher for most of my career. The call for batteries of assessments for kids at all grade levels has forced changes in teacher behaviors, as well as student behaviors. We don’t want to discourage our young students from helping one another during testing situations, since, especially in kindergarten, the altruistic desire to help is strong. But when you are told as a teacher that by the end of September, you have to have an assessment score for Words Their Way, a reading level score and a kindergarten assessment portfolio filled in for each of your children, it HAS to change the way you teach. Kids have to be grouped, tested on a skill, and whisked away, so the next group can be accurately assessed. If a child leans across the table to tell a friend that he’s actually supposed to be coloring in the square instead of the circle, how valuable is the data collected? It used to be all about the learning process, now it’s sadly feeling like it’s increasingly about the data. And couple that with the fact that our kindergarten aide, who already is shared between 3 teachers, has had her hours cut in each of the last 3 years. I’d love to sit one on one with my kids and ask them to name their letters and make their letter sounds, and when I still can do that, I do. I don’t have the luxury of that much time, or the support in my classroom. The truth is, there are assessments being pushed down to our grade level, forcing great teachers to make choices structuring their days in ways they know are not best practice for their young clientele. On the positive side, my kindergarten team sat down to plan last week and made sure that finger-painting jack-o-lanterns was in our lesson plans. We’ve gotta keep trying to keep the developmentally appropriate stuff in there!

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  4. Hi,
    I am an economist and I live in New York. First, I landed on your 2012 post on our job market. I was a little offended by your rants about how economists don’t understand unemployment, blah blah bad economists bad “STEM” people are superior blah. Then, I read the blog’s mission in the top-right corner. Fair enough! I am starting to like this guy. Then, I went to the home page and from there I found this article. Damn straight! I like this guy.

  5. n starr says:

    You know how people are always ranting about “ineffective” teachers & want to get rid of them but tenure la, la, la? Well, teachers are leaving – the best ones – because they understand that this is a terrible thing to do to children. The truly clueless, like the fool who thought kindergarteners could even comprehend cheating on a test, will remain. Fortunately some who are strong enough to stomach it will stay as well, trying to fight against the tide. I was a teacher in NY State for most of my life and in the years since NCLB came in and then was made worse (a thing I didn’t think was possible) by Race to the Top all joy has been drained out to the teaching/learning relationship. I’m glad to be retired so I don’t have to face it every day but I mourn for the loss of excitement & curiosity these children will suffer and the price we will pay for it.

    • J Kraus says:

      I, too am a retired teacher. I taught in CT public schools for 35 yrs, which covered the beginnings of mastery testing and NCLB. I could not agree more that the joy has gone out of the profession and for the students as well. Everything is focused on tests. Learning is secondary at best.

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  7. Ted says:

    I have to say that as a current teacher the testing has gotten out of hand and has accomplished nothing. All we have done is stigmatized a generation of children and squander billions of dollars that could have been used in the classroom to really improve education.

    This year for the first time in I can’t remember I am not teaching to a test. The state of Texas rolled back many of their high stakes testing (they were going to have 15 tests at the secondary level this year), leaving my Algebra II class with no state exam. I feel like I have rediscovered teaching again! We have discussions in class, because we no longer have time constraints. I give exams that are all open response – no more guessing. The students actually have to do the work. And my students? They love it! The class period flows, the students are engaged, and the students are learning and being successful. I am actually ahead of my pace last year with the state exams, but I am covering the material in greater detail. More in depth instruction, students engaged, positive learning environment… Isn’t that what education is supposed to be?

    I know that even some educators are stuck on the whole ‘what about accountability’ thing. I understand that. How long have we now had all of the high stakes testing? At least since the 90s. And how much improvement have we seen in schools? According to most folks, next to nothing. So my question is, why do we keep spending all of that money and keep losing all that time for testing that does nothing? It’s time to end the testing nightmare. Give it back to the teachers. We know our students and their capabilities very well.

    I love teaching. I always have. One of the greatest rewards I get is when a high school student comes up and gives me a bear hug and says ‘thanks’. Had that happen yesterday. Makes me proud of what I do. Makes me proud of my students. Let me teach!

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  9. splashy says:

    The whole idea of punishing children for trying to help each other is just wrong. I had that happen to me when I was in something like 2nd grade, and it was very traumatic. My natural tendency is to help others, I’m just made that way, and it was very difficult to understand that I was not to do that. Horrible thing to do to a child!

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