Wed June 4, 2014
Behind The Test: Louisiana Grapples With How To 'Test' Its Youngest Learners
Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 9:55 am
As the stakes grow higher for standardized tests, so too does the desire to test more students — including younger and younger ones. WWNO wraps up its series "Behind the Test."
The three-year-olds at Kids of Excellence child care center learn largely through play. Kristi Givens, the center’s director, tries to make sure they are ready for big school by the time they leave.
“It is not like we are sitting the kids down in the classroom saying, ‘A, B, C.’ It’s not like that,” she said. “They are learning through play. They are learning their numbers; they are learning their colors; they are learning all the things they have to learn. But they are learning through play.”
Louisiana officials are paying more attention these days to what even the youngest children are learning — or not learning — as the case might be. Starting next year, all publicly-funded child care, Head Start, and pre-k programs in the state will have to test their kids. Even the infants. Most New Orleans programs are already piloting the new tests. That doesn’t mean one-year-olds will be sitting down at a desk with bubble sheets and number two pencils. At least not yet.
“It is absolutely not testing the way we think of testing in what we call ‘big kids’ school, where we sit you down and you take a math test,” said Karri Kerns of Louisiana’s Agenda for Children, which is helping a group of New Orleans centers adapt to the new accountability. “It’s not like that at all.”
For the littlest learners, Kerns says, testing really means careful observation to make sure they are reaching developmental milestones, like being able to hold a crayon, retell a story, or respond to emotional cues.
State officials are still hashing out the details of who will do the testing and how the results will be used. But they know those results will come with consequences. Any program that serves children under the age of five and receives public funding will get a letter grade. Programs that get bad grades for too long will lose their funding.
“The state’s been really clear they do not want to be funding low-quality programs,” said Kerns.
Most states are starting to rate the quality of early childhood programs. They have a few different goals: One is to make sure as many students as possible are ready for kindergarten. Another is to force the weakest operators out of business. Louisiana is unusual, though, in requiring publicly-funded programs to participate. It's also unusual to base school letter grades at least partly on student outcomes.
The state faces some pretty big challenges in creating an accountability program. The first is figuring out exactly how this “testing” is going to work.
Early Childhood Education