Gas station without pumps

2010 August 28

Test prep for kindergarten?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 17:51
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Every year at the beginning of the school year, there are a round of stories about the cut-throat preparation of kids for entry tests for kindergarten (like this one, a few weeks ago).

Test prep for kindergarten seems to be limited mostly to New York City, thanks to a dysfunctional way of assigning kids to schools and the sincere but misguided belief by many New York parents that where a child goes to kindergarten determines their entire scholastic career through graduate school.  Those of us in the rest of the country are rather bemused by the media frenzy over what is really a very local phenomenon. The teacher matters much more than the school does, especially in the early grades, so the scramble to get into a “good school” is a bit silly even if understandable.

I’ve always been rather bothered by the “test preparation” industry.  Mostly they are selling snake oil, so they don’t do too much harm other than taking people’s money.  Occasionally they are selling ways to cheat (like access to the questions that are asked on particular IQ or school entrance exams, which are not supposed to be available to test-takers ahead of time), and then they really are harmful.

Test preparation for kindergarteners is particularly ridiculous, as testing kindergarteners is ridiculous.  There are very few psychometric tests that are reliable for kids under the age of 6.  The things a child needs to be ready for kindergarten are fairly simple and do not need testing to determine.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that a heavily academic kindergarten really offers much advantage to a bright student.

When my son was entering kindergarten (very bright and already reading), I looked for the best teachers I could find.  Although we looked a private school for gifted kids, we ended up with a bilingual program at a public school, because they had some superb teachers, lots of books in the classroom, plenty of library time, and the extra instruction in Spanish would provide something novel for him to learn.  That year I took a sabbatical in the spring in a different city, so we had to do another search for kindergartens.  We looked at several, including both public and private schools, and ended up with a public school that served a very poor neighborhood (though it was temporarily located in another building halfway across the city, due to renovation work at the school).  The reason again was an awesome teacher, a very rich environment in the classroom, and lots of books for him to read.  The range of books to read was important, as he was reading at a high 2nd-grade level by the middle of kindergarten.

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