An elementary school in New York canceled its annual May kindergarten play this year. The reason? The 5- and 6-year-old students needed to focus on college and career work.
Yes, you read that correctly. The pressure to study, study, study has reached all the way down to kindergarten. As a teacher, I find this terribly sad and can only imagine how those young, energetic souls with a passion to learn will have that enthusiasm drummed out of them by the need to study for standardized tests. This is not what education should be about.
The interim principal of Harley Avenue Primary School in Elwood sent a letter to parents on April 25 notifying them the school had canceled plans for the May 14 and 15 event.
“The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple,” said the letter, signed by Principal Ellen Best-Laimit and four kindergarten teachers. “We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”
Apparently they recognized the cancelation would be unpopular but asked parents not to fault their “professional decisions,” which they claimed were made with “the interests of all children in mind.”
This Decision is in the Best Interests of Your Children
Many parents were understandably furious that the play was being canceled and started calling the principal. District Superintendent Peter Scordo declined to discuss it. Michael Conte, a spokesman for Scordo, said in an e-mail on April 26:
Yes, the letter is authentic. As it states, the Harley Avenue Primary School educators believe that this decision is in the best interest of students.
I don’t have anything more to add for your consideration. Thank you for reaching out.
Sadly, all of this is not so surprising. Kindergarten, and sometime even preschool, has increasingly become academic, while recess and the arts have been eliminated in this era of standardized test-based school reform. In most states, educators are evaluated in large part on test scores of students and on showing that their students are “college and career ready.”
Learning and playing should go along side by side, but instead, kindergartners are being taught to the test.
They Don‘t Know How to Hold Pencils
As a Bronx kindergarten teacher whose class recently took the Pearson exam reported, “They don’t know how to hold pencils. They don’t know letters, and you have answers that say A, B, C or D and you’re asking them to bubble in . . . They break down; they cry.”
And yet, 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds in several states are being required to sit for extended periods of time and bubble in their answers to lengthy questions.
Taking multiple-choice tests based on scripted, highly academic curriculum is not only developmentally inappropriate for these very young children, it defies common sense. So argued Randi Weingarten and Nancy Carlsson-Paige in a recent Washington Post op-ed.
“The standardized assessments being administered to first-graders and even kindergartners in New York and elsewhere have put this issue in sharp relief,” they wrote. ”What is being required of young children is unreasonable, inappropriate and developmentally unsound.”
Yet, not only are these young children being trained to answer standardized tests for long periods of time, they are also losing recess and P.E. time. Teachers and parents know that children need to run around to get that oxygen flowing to their brain. After recess, they perform much better.
Children Need to Have Downtime
Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician and professor of human nutrition at the Ohio State University, affirms that recess is just as important as math and reading. “Children need to have downtime between complex cognitive challenges… They tend to be less able to process information the longer they are held to a task. It’s not enough to just switch from math to English. You actually have to take a break.”
And yet the increasing pressure to cram more instructional time into the school day in an attempt to boost test scores has put the squeeze on recess and naptime in districts around the country.
Fairtest reports that in Gadsden City, Ala., schools reportedly scratched naps for kindergartners to find time for test preparation. Wynell Williams, elementary education director for the Gadsden system, explained it this way: “If the state is holding us accountable, this is the way we have to do it. Kindergarten is not like it used to be.”
In Kenosha, Wis., the principal of the Bain School of Arts and Language announced that recess would be eliminated because the school’s test scores threatened to place it on the state’s watch list of schools not meeting NCLB test score standards. “If teachers want to bring their students outside, it will be only for educational purposes and will include studying,” said Bain Principal Margaret Carpenter.
It’s the same story all over the U.S., where approximately 30 percent of elementary students do not have recess.
When will this madness end?
Photo Credit: Thinkstock