It is not unusual to overhear observations such as “ kindergarten looks like the new first or second grade” or “What happened to play in kindergarten?” In a growing number of schools across the country we haven’t moved past these observations to take action. So what does this all have to do with the boycotting of high-stakes standardized tests? And why should parents and teachers support what is now well known as the Opt Out movement?
The assessments that third, fourth and fifth graders are subjected to each year are more about crunching data and less about helping children become stronger, inquisitive and active learners. Teachers usually do not see the results of the tests until it is too late for any information to be helpful for instruction. The exams seem to be designed in ways that do not relate to what children in each grade need to learn. Because there is so much pressure for schools to reach high test score numbers, much class time is spent in teaching to the test.
What does this have to do with kindergarten? Five year olds don’t (yet!) take these tests. Alhough research shows that young children learn through play, not through early academic pressure, administrators, pressured by the demands of standards-based accountability, impose inappropriate curricula that early childhood teachers must implement. Young, new teachers, many of whom have not experienced play-based learning themselves, are often at a loss, caught between early childhood’s solid research base and expectations.
In the 2009 report, Crisis in the Kindergarten, Edward Miller and Joan Almon cite the following findings from Linda Darling-Hammond and Jon Snyder’s research on German kindergartens found in their article “Curriculum Studies and the Traditions of Inquiry”
Long-term research casts doubt on the assumption that starting earlier on the teaching of phonics and other discrete skills leads to better results. For example, most of the play-based kindergartens in Germany were changed into centers for cognitive achievement during a wave of educational “reform” in the 1970s. But research comparing 50 play-based classes with 50 early-learning centers found that by age ten the children who had played in kindergarten excelled over the others in a host of ways. They were more advanced in reading and mathematics and they were better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. They excelled in creativity and intelligence, oral expression, and “industry.” As a result of this study German kindergartens returned to being play-based again.
In the United States, however, evidence seems to be thrown out the window or ignored and kindergartens continue to eliminate most , if not all, opportunities for children to play.
Recently, as I was walking down the hallway of a New York City public school, I passed a kindergarten class with this weekly schedule posted on the door of the classroom.
I wondered if this school day for five- year old children, like the one shown in this schedule, was becoming more common throughout the city. I’ve often seen similiar schedules where children get “free play” or “Choice Time” for a half-hour at the end of the day. Why aren’t educators and parents connecting the dots between a grueling school day in kindergarten and the increase in diagnoses of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)?
Isn’t it obvious that this schedule and others like it are so closely connected to the hysteria over high test scores and the pressure to meet the Common Core Standards? Isn’t it obvious why all parents, not those only of third through fifth grade students, should be vocally supporting the Opt Out movement?
If we, parents, grandparents and educators, do not speak up and put pressure on politicians and high-up powers in the education department, then it certainly will be our children who suffer.