The following is a testimony given by Genevieve Demos Kelley at the Maryland House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee Public Hearing on February 18th, 2016, in support of House Bill 657, a bill that would limit the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment to a random sample of students. The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Prince George’s County Advocates for Better Schools.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in support of HB 657. I am a mother of two boys: a seven-year-old in the Prince George’s County school system and a four-year-old who is still in preschool.
My older son started kindergarten in the fall of 2013, one year before the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was implemented statewide. I vividly remember the mix of anxiety and excitement that we both experienced as I took him to his classroom and then said goodbye. Of course I wanted him to learn to read and and to write, but most of all, I wanted him to learn to love learning, to learn to love school. And he did! He was fortunate to have a teacher who sparkled in the classroom. Her lessons were engaging, and she cared about her students. I was confident that my son was in good hands.
The next school year, as my son was adjusting to first grade, I kept hearing the same complaints from parents in my community whose kids had just entered kindergarten: Their children were underwhelmed, and they did not understand why the kindergarten teachers were so frequently absent.
Eventually, an article in the Washington Post and a quick google search led me to MSEA’s Report and Recommendations on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. I learned about the terrible disruption to the classroom that this new test was causing, as teachers were required to administer a one-on-one test to every child in their class. Hundreds of teachers had responded to MSEA’s survey, and I found pages and pages of heartbreaking comments from teachers — teachers who felt that they were no longer able to do their jobs effectively during the critical first few weeks of school.
Here are some sample narrative responses from teachers:
“The first few months of school are the most important in setting routines, expectations and getting to know my children. I have spent more hours ignoring their needs or handing off instruction to substitutes then I can count.” (MSEA, Report and Recommendations on the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, Appendix I, p.1).
“I have been a teacher in Maryland for over 33 years and I have never had anything impact my instruction [as] negatively as the administration and recording of the KRA.”(Appendix I, p 34)
As a former public school teacher myself, I can feel the frustration pouring off the page. I know what it’s like to see the classroom experience diminished by a misguided policy or administrative decision.
But as frustrating as this situation is from a teacher’s perspective, I am even more outraged when I look at it through the eyes of a parent. I remember what five year olds are like. These kids are nervous about new routines and expectations. They’re unsure about when they will be allowed to use the bathroom, how they are going to get their shoelaces tied, and when they’ll get to play outside. They want to love school, and they desperately want their teacher to like them. Our eager, nervous, bright five-year-olds need teachers who are joyful, engaged, and fully present.
It is unacceptable that kindergarten teachers are forced to ignore the needs of our five-year-olds, because they are administering a test that requires them to interrupt classroom instruction. Our children deserve better.
I urge you to support the proposal to ease the burden on the kindergarten classroom by changing the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment to a sampling test. Please support HB 657.