Federal law requires states to assess how much students are learning each year in third through eighth grades and at least once in high school. But many states are beginning to use standardized tests for even younger kids, including those who are getting ready to start kindergarten.
What is the purpose of kindergarten readiness tests?
These tests aren’t designed to decide whether children should begin kindergarten or spend another year in Pre-K. They also aren’t designed to track students’ success in school.
Instead, the purpose of these tests is to identify students in need of special education services. The tests provide a snapshot of what kids know compared to others their age and identify strengths and weaknesses. They can help guide how things are taught in the classroom.
Which states test early learners?
Nearly half of states have some type of kindergarten readiness entry test. More states are considering them.
Are states required to do this?
Federal law doesn’t require states to give standardized tests to children until they reach third grade.
But dozens of states have applied for federal grants to improve the quality of early-learning program. States that get this money decide on their own whether to use part of it on a kindergarten readiness test.
A state that decides to test early learners must follow guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences to make sure the assessments aren’t misused.
What do the tests look like?
The tests are designed to be given to one child at a time rather than in a large group. A teacher or other trained professional administers the test by asking the child questions and writing down her answers. For example, a teacher might give her some building blocks and ask her to use them to solve a math problem.
Are these considered standardized tests?
Yes, kindergarten readiness tests are designed to be given the same way each time they’re administered. As with all standardized tests, accommodations are available for children with disabilities, such as hearing impairments and mobility issues. Children who have already been identified as having learning and attention issues can get accommodations too. In some cases, parents may need to ask for them—because of the child’s young age, testing accommodations may not have been included in the child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or 504 plan.
These tests can also be aligned with the new Common Core State Standards. These standards are being adopted in many states and include specifics for what students should know by the time they enter kindergarten.
Are these tests controversial?
In some places, yes. New York has begun giving assessment tests to children in the second grade and younger and is using them as a way to measure how well teachers are doing.
The United Federation of Teachers and some state lawmakers say such tests are inappropriate for kids this young. It has launched a petition drive to ban standardized tests before third grade.
Research hasn’t yet established whether the results of kindergarten readiness tests can actually predict a child’s success in kindergarten.
If you’re concerned about these tests, talk with your child’s doctor or preschool teacher. Remember that when it comes to your child, the purpose of these tests is to get her the supports she needs to succeed in school, not to hold her back.