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Testing, Anxiety, and the ABC's: Kindergarten Under Common Core

New report finds Common Core mandate that kindergarteners learn to read forces 'inappropriate' instruction, blocks experiential learning, and causes harmful anxiety among children

Studies show that children exhibit greater gains from active, play-based learning experiences—the same activities that are being pushed out to make room for more academic instruction. (Photo: woodleywonderworks/cc/flickr)

The widely adopted standard that kindergarteners must learn to read has led to inappropriate drilling and excessive testing in place of important experiential learning, finds a new report published Tuesday by a panel of education experts.

The report, Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose (pdf), put forth by early education groups Defending the Early Years (DEY) and the Alliance for Childhood, debunks the thinking behind the Common Core State Standard (or CCSS) that children as young as 4 or 5 must be able to "read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding."

Report authors Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, and Joan Wolfsheimer Almon say they could find no research to support the controversial guideline. Alternately, studies show that children exhibit greater gains from active, play-based learning experiences—the same activities that are being pushed out to make room for more academic instruction.

From the report:

As children engage in active learning experiences and play, they are talking and listening all the time. They attach words to their actions, talk with peers and teachers, learn new vocabulary and use more complex grammar. As they build, make paintings, and engage in imaginative play, they deepen their understanding of word meanings. As they listen to and create stories, hear rich language texts, sing songs, poems and chants, their foundation for reading grows strong.

Further, the authors note that many kindergarten-age children are not developmentally ready to learn to read and thus, the Common Core is setting "unrealistic goals" and forcing educators to use "inappropriate methods," such as drilling and excessive testing, to accomplish them.

The report cites a recent DEY survey of early childhood teachers (preschool to grade three) which found that 85 percent of the public school teachers who responded said that they are required to teach activities that are not developmentally appropriate for their students.

"When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and confusion," the report notes.

The authors cite a recent email from a concerned parent, who wrote:

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My 5-year-old son started Common Core Kindergarten this year in California. Even though it’s only been two months he is already far behind. His teacher asked, "What kind of preschool did he go to — it must have been a lot of play." Of course it was a lot of play! That’s what I wanted for him! She warned me he would probably be getting some "area of concern" grades come November... [W]e are required to do ... [worksheets] four nights a week. It’s the same boring thing over and over again. (Especially the reading homework)... I know he’s not stupid but I’m being told in not so clear terms that he is. It’s very disheartening.

For kindergarten alone, there are more than 90 standards under the Common Core that young children are expected to meet. Some form of the standards have been adopted in 46 states as well as the District of Columbia.

"It puts an emphasis away from a child-centered curriculum, away from children and teaching and onto these requirements that are externally imposed," said Nancy Carlsson-Paige.

Under the Common Core standards, all children are expected to achieve the same benchmarks by the end of each school year. However, according to research, children in low-income and underserved communities do not receive the same educational resources that are given to their peers from wealthier communities.

"Attention to the Common Core is a diversion from addressing the underlying issues of economic inequality that contribute to the achievement gap between low-and high-income students," the authors note.

Among the recommendations put forth, Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood are calling for an end to the high-stakes testing of children up to third grade. The groups are also calling for the withdrawal of the kindergarten standards from the Common Core until they are rethought along appropriate developmental lines.

The two groups released the video below to promote their research and are asking other critics of the Common Core to share their recommendations with the hashtag #2much2soon.

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