The state of Michigan is currently experiencing an all-out crisis in terms of standardized testing. Last year, the Michigan Legislature suddenly and shockingly voted to back out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which it was set to utilize for the first time in the 2014-2015 school year. Despite outright protests from the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Legislature forced the Department of Ed to hurriedly craft a new one-year test, the M-STEP, which was from its inception meant solely to be a stop-gap measure designed to placate the feds until we could decide on a standardized test to stick with for the 2015-2016 school year and beyond.
The M-STEP, which is set to take place this spring, has already been off to a chaotic start. Just this past week, for example, an announcement was made that the M-STEP would no longer be a computer-adaptive test, as promised, but rather a fixed-form test. High school testing obligations have also been changed mid-year, and the entire situation has been such a disaster that the Dept. of Ed is asking that this year’s data not be used in any substantive ways (other than to fulfill federal requirements to keep federal education dollars flowing to our state).
In light of that, it was especially surprising and concerning to hear Michigan Governor Rick Snyder promote entrance testing for kindergarteners going forward. Why, with an already-impending standardized testing disaster coming for 3rd-11th graders this spring, would the governor want to expand the use of standardized tests to now include 5-year-olds?
“It would help us assess how well that huge preschool investment is going, what schools (students) went to, how they’re doing,” Snyder said, adding, “That would give us a benchmark to see how effective that is.”
Of course, to see how individual preschools are actually doing, you’d have to have data that tracked the students before they got to preschool. Then you could try to assess the preschools using the ubiquitous “Value-Added” model so prevalent these days.
But wait. Let’s think about what we’re really discussing here. We’re talking about creating a standard assessment for kids who are just finishing preschool and are preparing to enter kindergarten. What kinds of standards would even be assessed?
Well, it turns out that the state of Michigan has a list of desired preschool outcomes — exactly 100 standards in all — that might well spell out what could eventually be included on a kindergarten entrance exam.
The problem with all of this is simple: many of Michigan’s 100 standards for preschoolers cannot genuinely be measured by a standardized assessment. These include standards like the following:
“8.3.3 Shows growing independence in hygiene, nutrition, and personal care when eating, dressing, washing hands, brushing teeth, and toileting.”
“6.4.3 Progresses in responding sympathetically to peers who are in need, upset, hurt, or angry; and in expressing empathy or caring for others.”
“5.1.1 Participates with increasing interest and enjoyment in a variety of music activities, including listening, singing, finger plays, games, and performances.”
…and the list goes on.
Some standards, on the other hand, are much easier to measure through a standardized assessment. These include standards like:
“2.5.3 Identifies at least 10 letters of the alphabet, especially those in their own name.”
“3.1.3 Develops increasing ability to count in sequence to 10 and beyond.”
You can already see where this is going: this kindergarten entrance exam, due to time and budget limitations and the general realities of what types of standards can reasonably be assessed, is going to focus exclusively on the more academic, easy-to-measure preschool standards on the list. Things like the ability to get along with others, music, physical education, self-control, and a desire to learn will not be on the test. Things like reading and math will be.
What is tested becomes what is taught. Our preschools will be forced to move more and more toward an academic model, not a model that focuses more on the child’s whole development as a person. An entrance exam that was designed to provide information about how Michigan’s preschools are doing will end up, completely inadvertently, causing great harm to those very institutions.
To Governor Snyder and everyone in the Michigan Legislature: Please, keep your standardized tests and their unintended consequences away from our five-year-olds.