Statewide, kindergartners are subjected to standardized assessment within the first weeks of school. What is the purpose or benefit? That is, at best, unclear. You can request to opt-out of it! (Opt-Out form for Portland Public Schools, more on how to opt out in other Oregon districts below)
The Oregon Kindergarten Assessment (sometimes called “OKA” but more often “Kindergarten Assessment”) has little to no discernable benefit for classroom instruction and has some insidious components we detail below. Students in poverty do worse on tests than financially secure students. We know this, and Oregon’s student poverty rate is shamefully high. Will the Kindergarten Assessment get us to talk more honestly about student poverty and create change, or just lead to more “test-and-punish” policies that have failed schools and students for decades?
In general, this Kindergarten Assessment is wasteful, an unfunded mandate, stressful on staff, and loses important instructional and play time which are much more essential to a student’s lifelong success.
A smarter investment of Oregon’s resources would be to ensure all students have access to early childhood education; or to get rid of the Kindergarten Assessment and allow for more social and play time for kids as they begin their public school experience & interact with teachers and fellow students.
WHAT IS OREGON’S KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT?
Oregon’s Kindergarten Assessment is state-mandated and given one-on-one to all kindergarteners in Oregon public schools (including charter schools). It was launched in 2013 and has an academic portion and a behavioral assessment. Its purpose is to assess a student’s development as “a snapshot” at the start of kindergarten. This year’s assessment window is from August 10 to October 22, 2015. However, there is compelling pressure to get it done even within the first day or two of school before kindergartners are even oriented.
WHO ADMINISTERS IT?
The academic portion of the Kindergarten Assessment cannot be administered by a volunteer and is typically given by the kindergarten teacher, paraeducator/teaching assistant, student teacher, or a school administrator. Districts have different approaches. Most typically it is given by the classroom teacher or the paraeducator/teaching assistant. The behavioral assessment is to be completed by the kindergarten teacher.
WHO CREATED IT?
The Kindergarten Assessment was developed by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), through the stewardship of the Early Learning Council which began as part of the Oregon Educational Investment Board (OEIB). To widespread relief, the OEIB, a project of Governor John Kitzhaber, was dissolved by Governor Kate Brown. The Early Learning Council continues.
WHAT DOES IT CONSIST OF?
The academic portion of the Kindergarten Assessment consists of early math and early literacy parts. The behavioral assessment consists of interpersonal and self-regulation skills.
Early Math: Not timed. Students view and respond to 16 items that include counting, simple addition, simple subtraction, and recognizing number patterns. The assessment is multiple choice. Students choose (by pointing) from three possible answers.
Early Literacy: Direct fluency assessments of how quickly and accurately the kindergarten student recognizes letters and letter sounds.
- Letter Names: The student sees and names upper and lowercase letters. This is a timed assessment, at 60 seconds.
- Letter Sounds: The student sees and produces the sounds of upper and lowercase letters and some letter blends. This is a timed assessment, at 60 seconds.
Approaches to Learning (interpersonal & self-regulation skills): Teachers observe the student in the classroom during regular classroom activities and routines then complete the 15 item Child Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS).
A SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM FOR NON-ENGLISH SPEAKING STUDENTS
The Kindergarten Assessment is only available in English. Even students who are English Language Learners take the English version. If a student is a Spanish-speaking English Language Learner they also take a Spanish assessment. Oddly, the Spanish materials are surface-level translations of English content. That means the literacy materials in Spanish do not assess a English Language Learner student’s skill level with Spanish syntax and grammar.
HOW ARE RESULTS RECORDED & SCORED?
For the academic portions, test administrators show a booklet where the student reads items and point to or say aloud their responses. The test administrator also has a scoring booklet. The behavioral assessment has a separate scoring booklet. The scoring happens at the school level, then the booklets are given to the school district, which submits the data to ODE.
In past years, teachers were not allowed to keep, copy, or receive information on the scores, thus making the whole process not helpful for the classroom. For 2015-16 teachers receiving the scores is permitted, but districts would need to make the results available. There is no interpretation of what the scores mean in determining “readiness” (e.g. how many math answers should be correct).
CONCERNS ABOUT STUDENT DATA AND CONFIDENTIALITY
What is ultimately done with this collected student data is vague. Districts are showing various idiosyncrasies. More broadly, results for individual students have not been used to drive interventions or resources to those children to improve their kindergarten experience. Maybe that will change in 2015-16 with districts being able to share the results with teachers. As the student data accrue, ODE and state officials have said that they are not sure all the ways in which the data may be used.
ARE THESE HIGH-STAKES TESTS?
Ostensibly, no, at least not in the highly-visible way SBAC is. But in practice, especially for preschools, they are high-stakes in that many public-funded preschools are guessing their existence will be based on the Kindergarten Assessment results their former students attain upon entering kindergarten. Until greater clarity is attained about the purpose of the Kindergarten Assessment, these preschools are feeling pressured to teach-to-the-test instead of placing an emphasis on play and developing social skills, attributes far more essential to a student’s overall development than forcing preschoolers to sit and prep for a future assessment.
WHAT DO TEACHERS & ADMINISTRATORS THINK ABOUT KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT?
Many teachers question the value of the Kindergarten Assessment to a student’s experience and development. They point to many wonderful teacher-implemented and interpreted assessments that provide everything needed about individual children. An example from a Portland public school kindergarten teacher:
“We use the Phonics Survey which was created by the District and has been used for several years now. It asks nearly the same information with a few exceptions being the components added as the year goes on (so there are tasks asked in the spring that we don’t access in the fall because we wouldn’t expect a kindergartner to come in with those skills). The big difference being that this is an assessment that I can score and I can use for guiding my instruction as opposed to the Kindergarten Assessment which gets sent somewhere and I don’t ever get a breakdown of the data. We use teacher created math assessments that are based on a mix of basic tasks from the math adoption and the report card – again with a HUGE benefit that WE gather and interpret the data to meet the needs of and better understand the intricacies of individual students and we have control of how the data is used.”
Many teachers and administrators are not encouraged to share their views on testing and school and district staff have at times suffered negative consequences for encouragement of opting-out.
ARE DISPARITIES BETWEEN RACE/ECONOMIC STATUS ADDRESSED?
Student lives are complex. Too many have to deal with poverty, racism, immigrant issues, language barriers, disabilities, and a lack of access to early childhood education. These over-stressed students tend to not test as well as more advantaged students. Our student poverty rate is about 23%. Will implementing the Kindergarten Assessment result in more honest conversations about these essential factors to student success, or will it lead to more of the expensive, regressive “test-and-punish” approach of the last 15 years? Given so much of these policies of over-testing come from politicians who understand business far better than education, the trend is not favorable.
WHAT CAN I DO?
- Learn more about this and other “corporate reform driven” measures in public education
- Share your concerns with your school board, legislators, the staff at your school, and other parents
- Opt your child out of the test!
- Join an advocacy organization such as Oregon Save Our Schools or Parents Across America
- Write to a local newspaper, post on relevant blogs, and engage in dialogue to raise awareness
HOW CAN I OPT-OUT MY STUDENT FROM THE KINDERGARTEN ASSESSMENT?
Contact your school to find out if they have a specific process for opting-out (basically, if they have a form or if a simple letter is sufficient). The request to opt-out must be based on either a religious belief against testing (citing a personal belief is typically fine) or a student’s disability. This must be done quickly, given the approaching start of the school year when Kindergarten Assessment takes place. We recommend handing the letter to the child’s teacher and to the school’s principal or vice principal, and to email it to them as well to establish a record it was sent.
The letter can be as simple as this:
To: [Teacher & administrator]
This letter is to inform you that I am opting out my child [student name] from all portions of the Kindergarten Assessment. This decision is based on [cite religious/personal belief or student disability].
The right to opt-out has recently been established for year-end summative tests like the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) which applies to grades 3-8 and 11 statewide. It is not clear if this right will also apply to Kindergarten Assessment. Until the state provides more clarity, we recommend sticking to citing either religious belief or student disability as the reason.
If you hit barriers or have questions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org