Monthly Archives: October 2013

They should be getting dirty counting frogs in ponds!

They shouldn’t count frogs on pages.They should be getting dirty counting frogs in ponds.

This statement says it all.

I’m sharing Monique Dois’ impassioned and articulate letter because she presents such wonderfully clear reasons why this testing mania is inappropriate and misguided. I hope that this is a letter that will go viral on the internet to support a movement that lobbies for a return to appropriate instructional practices in early childhood grades!hard hats at work

October 18, 2013

Dear Commissioner King,

It appears that I have to take some time out of my day to explain to you why my just-turned-five-year-old son shouldn’t be taking your standardized bubble tests as a “Measure of Student Learning” (MOSL) in Kindergarten. I would think that the last sentence that I wrote would stand on it’s own and that I wouldn’t need to elaborate the point any further. (“Kindergarten” and “standardized bubble test” just appeared in the same sentence, in case you missed it.) Unfortunately, it seems that all of the research in best early childhood practices has been thrown out the window in the interest of what you call reform.

I was thinking of writing to you about all of the ways that this kind of testing is inappropriate for 4 and 5 year-old children. For example, I was thinking about how kids in this age range can’t sit still. Or how young kids have the tendency to cry and run away from being forced to do stupid stuff. I was also imagining how my son is much more likely to make an elaborate pattern on your bubble sheet than fill in “right answers.” (And this would be a much better use of his time and mathematical energies, actually.) I was also tearing up thinking about how the wonderfully empathetic minds of young children don’t understand what “cheating” is. I wanted to communicate how painful it is to me as a parent and educator to think about kids trying to help each other on the test, only to be told by their powerless teacher that that is not allowed.

So, I guess what I am saying Commissioner King, is that it crossed my mind to address you on all of the ways that this kind of testing will further degrade kindergarten. But then I remembered hearing that your children go to a Montessori school. And I got angry. Why? Not because I don’t think your children deserve an active, hands-on, developmentally appropriate, loving, playful, and artful experience in school. But I think all children do. Stop bubble testing our babies!

Then I remembered that you don’t like hearing impassioned pleas of educators and parents. When we tried to compel you to stop destroying our children’s tenacity and love of learning at a forum in Poughkeepsie you arrogantly called us “special interest” groups and then canceled the rest of your public hearings. It sounds to me, Commissioner, that you are still developing the stamina, perseverance and grit that it takes to really listen to all the people who disagree with you and take their varying perspectives into consideration while building your own. So instead of going that route and getting all “emotional mom,” I decided to keep it simple and professional:

Commissioner King, you can’t measure student learning in Kindergarten using a pencil and paper bubble test. I’ll give you one example. On one of these Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) you ask children to select the illustration that shows 13 frogs. Something that seems so simple as being able to count thirteen is not really that simple at all. Let me explain.

While children are learning to count they show a number of behaviors in the process of counting actual objects that are not captured on this test. For example, if you give my son 13 buttons and ask him to count them, this is what will happen: First he will get a mischievous grin and say “A lot! So many I can hardly count!” This will tell you that he will probably have to work hard counting numbers in this range (it’s funny how kids will tell you what they need, if you listen). Then he will start counting. He starts by moving the buttons into a line, which shows us that he has some understanding that he needs to keep track of his counting. Then as he gets to 9 he will stop moving them and start just touching them where they are. This tells me that at 9 he has to start working hard to remember the counting sequence and starts attending more to that and less to keeping track. He may loose his one-to-one correspondence as he focuses his effort on the counting sequence and just hover his fingers over buttons as he chants the numbers. If I ask him to do it again, he may line up all of the buttons and accurately count them all, because the first time he tried got him warmed up for the task.

After he shows evidence that he grasps how to count 13, then I would ask him to give me 13 buttons from my collection. It is much more challenging to count out 13 buttons than to count a pile of 13 buttons. It requires my son to be really secure in his understanding of 13 because of different skills being juggled. The inconsistency of his counting 13 will tell us that my son is in the right range for his learning potential and I will look for lots of ways to give him 10-20 real life objects for him to count and manipulate in different contexts. We may call all of this practice in “composing and decomposing numbers to 20”. Though, as opposed to your seriously bewildering Engage NY modules, we don’t usually call it that when we are talking to 4 or 5 year-olds. Doing so doesn’t make our instruction more rigorous, it makes it more ridiculous.

At this point, my son is likely to pick out and start talking about his favorite button and how it is so shiny and how he loves the sparkly, rainbow-y colors. This may seem off task to you, and you may be likely to have me redirect him. But an experienced Kindergarten teacher like my son’s teacher would encourage him to play with the buttons. She would observe what he does, take his lead, help give him language for his play as he sorts the buttons by color, size, number of holes, “sparkliness” and so on. Play is serious work in Kindergarten.

This understanding of the development of number sense in young children is completely lost on your tests. Your system is so riddled in so-called “high standards”, and a can’t-reach-the-ever-moving-bar deficit model of education, that you have completely lost track of what makes for good teaching. I know that my child’s Kindergarten teacher is much better equipped to assess my kid’s counting than your multiple choice questions. I am outraged by the very notion that you will assess her as a teacher using the completely unreliable “data” mined from these MOSL bubble tests.

Early childhood teachers are unfortunately used to being degraded, undervalued and our work rendered invisible. But enough is enough. We have to draw the line with tests that are an insult to our professional as well as common sense. Making teachers use an inappropriate assessment that is tied to their very survival as a teacher, will encourage them to do inappropriate things to kids. Tests that require kids to count frogs on pages will only encourage teachers to have kindergarteners count lots of frogs on lots of pages. Kindergarteners should be given meaningful opportunities to solve real life number problems, build nature collections, make beautiful patterns with buttons, describe objects and live and learn what it feels like to hold numbers of objects in their tiny, precious hands. They shouldn’t count frogs on pages.They should be getting dirty counting frogs in ponds.

Thanks for listening, Commissioner King. I know that you are working on your ability to hear criticism. I appreciate you sticking with me through all of this. I know it required a considerable attention span. Luckily unlike my 5 year old you do have the capacity for such attention, even if you don’t regularly practice using it while listening to teachers and parents. Practice makes perfect!


Monique Dols, mom to a Kindergartener and early childhood teacher
Bronx, NY

P.S. You know Froebel, right? He’s the guy that like, totally inspired Kindergarten and Montessori. Before he came along people used to think that play in early childhood was a frivolous waste of time. I know, crazy right!? What were they thinking?

A Mother’s Call for Help


My husband and I have been in Paris for the last three weeks, overdosing on art, food and, of course, delicious wine. The problems at home in the schools seemed so far away. How relaxing it has been to spend my time contemplating Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette rather than the sickness of high stakes testing or the anxieties caused by an obsession with the Common Core Learning Standards.

However life, real life, has found a way of creeping in to remind me of the educational problems back home. My history as a long time early childhood educator and my present work as a consultant working with early childhood teachers, demands that I help to find a way of confronting the misguided edicts that are polluting our public schools.

Yesterday I received an email from my niece, my sister’s daughter. Joey is the mother of three wonderful, active and inquisitive children. They live in a suburban town in New Jersey. I don’t often hear from Joey and so, when I received her message, I knew at once that this must be something important. Joey and her husband Rob are very involved with their family. They enroll the children in sports programs and dance classes. Joey began reading to them when they were infants. She’s never been a political activist but when I read her note to me I realized that she is about to embark on a major struggle in support of what she knows is best for her children.

Here’s Joey’s note to me:

I would like some advice.
I am not happy with the Common Core. Actually, most parents here are not. I kept telling them, “we can keep complaining to each other, or we can do something”.
I am not 100% sure what to do. I thought start small by getting as many of these parents together and having them speak at the next PTA meeting. Unfortunately, our principal is not one who cares about the students as much as he cares about pleasing those above him.

Robert and Michael are doing well, but does a 3rd – grader need to know about checks and balances? Does a 5th grader need to start being prepped for the SAT test by learning Greek and Latin and getting rid of a second language to push this?
And I fear for Lauren’s education. She is only into one month of kindergarten, and cries that there are no toys. She comes home with work sheets galore.
I ran from NY because I watched my son’s (then in 1st and 3rd grade) come home flushed from sitting in their seat all day working and working. Or how they would come home, after having no recess only having to do more work and not get time to play.

Now, living here, recess has been cut 5 minutes, what will next year bring?

My sons have no time to finish their lunch, because I guess eating is no longer important.

There was nothing sent home over the summer to bridge them into this new curriculum, the teachers are frustrated with their district deadlines, and the kids are stressed. I fear a generation of antidepressants and suicides.

Okay, having said all of that… Where do I begin?
Thanks for reading my rant:) and if you can give me any advice, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you,

I made a plan to speak with Joey when I get back from my vacation on October 22nd. That doesn’t give me much time to come up with a practical solution or advice for action! I’ve sent her a link to the Alliance for Childhood so that she can read about an organization that is advocating to bring play back into the curriculum .I also sent her a link to the New Jersey Common Core Standards so that she can familiarize herself with the standards that teachers must now use to guide their planning and instruction.

I know of principals in New York City who are working diligently to satisfy their higher-ups while also being careful to insure that teachers follow a developmentally appropriate curriculum in their classrooms. These leaders, however, are few and far-between. There seems to be a McCarthy-like
fear that is permeating the system, intimidating administrators, terrorizing teachers, creating stressed-out children and, from what I gather from Joey’s note, frustrating and confusing parents.

I’m reaching out to all of the educators, parents, grandparents and friends of children who read this blog. Do you have suggestions for how I can respond and support Joey and the other parents in her school? What can parents and teachers do to be sure that their children attend public schools where learning is fun, exciting, and explorative? Is it possible for parents, teachers, administrators and other educational leaders to find a common ground where they can dialogue on the role that the Common Core Standards plays in our present educational environment?