Testing in kindergarten: whatever happened to story time? | On Politics | Chicago Reader

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Testing in kindergarten: whatever happened to story time?

Chicago kindergarteners could spend a third of their school year taking standardized tests


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Nevertheless, in order to comply with PERA the students of Chicago are now stuck with something called the Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago—REACH, for short. According to the CPS website, it's "our new, comprehensive teacher evaluation system."

In the kindergarten test, the teacher reads the students a story called The Big Bug Dug, about a bug who digs deep into the ground, passing a snake and a gopher on the way, until he finds a quiet place to sleep.

The test follows.

But since these are five- and six-year-olds who can't read, that means one-on-one testing. So while the other 29 kids are occupied with busy work, the teacher calls a child to her desk to answer questions: What's the story's setting? Who's the main character? And how does the bug feel in the middle of the day?

"Most of the kids just look at me," says another kindergarten teacher who asked not to be identified. "They're five. They don't what a 'main character' means."

Some of the questions are tricky, like the one that asks how the bug feels in the middle of the day. The test guide says the correct answer is "anxious." And that's what the kindergarteners are supposed to say.

But "anxious" is not a concept most five-year-olds can articulate, though they certainly may feel it after being subjected to this test. So the teacher is supposed to look for an answer that best approximates "anxious."

Actually, the more I think about it, I'm not even sure that "anxious" is the correct answer to this question. The bug may feel determined, as in, "I really want to dig this hole." Or he may feel purposeful, as in, "At last—I've discovered what I want to do in life!" The question gets at his motivation, which is subject to interpretation and debate.

Of course, there's no room for debate in a standardized test—there's only right or wrong. Presumably, by the end of the year the child will know enough to say the bug feels anxious. At which point the teacher will get to keep his or her job, for at least another year.

All is not lost with this test, however. Several students came up with some delightful twists on the story. One little girl in Donna's class drew a picture of a swimming pool and picnic.

When asked why, the girl responded: "I thought the bug might get hot and want to go swimming. I thought he might get hungry."

Dutifully, the teacher recorded that response. And somewhere in that student's file her delightfully original take is marked: "Wrong!" If all goes according to plan, the tests will drum out any vestige of creativity in that little girl by the start of first grade.

Here's the twist. All teachers record the answers. Think about this, folks: teachers get to grade their own accountability tests. Damn, if they had this for students back in the day, I might have passed chemistry.

My suggestion to teachers: if you want to keep your jobs, make sure your kids are struggling with The Big Bug Dug in September and plowing through Tolstoy by June.

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