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Heather Momyer/MEDILL

Isaac Biggs is a first-grader. He has already taken four tests this year.

Math quiz: Count the kindergarteners’ tests

by Heather Momyer
Oct 25, 2012


Heather Momyer/MEDILL

Jennifer Biggs helps her sons, ages 6 and 8, with their homework.

Heather Momyer/MEDILL

Jennifer Biggs' children go to Mark Sheridan Math and Science Acadamy. Their school's assessments include optional testing.

How many standardized tests do Chicago Public School kindergarteners actually take? The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask.

Last week Karen Lewis, the often-feisty president of the Chicago Teachers Union, told a parent group that kindergarteners have to take 14 tests this year. That’s what some people call education reform, Lewis said, but “it should be called child abuse” because of the stress the testing regime imposes on youngsters.

CPS officials dispute that count, and say the number is much smaller. The big gap appears to reflect different interpretations of the word test, and the inclusion of separate tests that can be added at individual schools.

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said Lewis’ statement isn’t true.

“There are two required assessments for kindergarteners that are administered at the beginning and end of year,” she wrote in an emailed response. Those two tests are the REACH Performance Tasks – a wide-ranging evaluation that CPS uses as a key measure of teacher performance -- and a literacy–and-math test known as the NWEA MAP for Primary Grades.

That suggests CPS administers four tests to kindergarten students, two in the autumn and two in the spring.

How can four tests become 14? Different schools have the option of requiring additional tests, for one thing. Julie Fain, wife of CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey and mother of a kindergartener at Pritzker Elementary School, breaks it down this way: “For NWEA MAP Testing, students test in reading and math three times this year. For REACH testing, students will take a literacy test twice this year.” There’s also a literacy test, known by its acronym DIBELS, that will be given three times this year, she said. And Pritzker also administers a math test, known as mClass, that will be given three times this year.

Fain counts the components of the multi-subject tests separately; so a test that includes both math and reading is counted as two tests.

Hypothetically, the number of tests could even be higher than the 14 Fain and Lewis mention: In the fine print, the online CPS assessment calendar indicates that about 40 kindergarten classrooms will also participate in a state pilot test called KIDS, which will assess students in six categories, three times per year.

Critics say the school system’s extensive reliance on testing is a distraction for teachers, and takes a toll on students. “At that age, it’s important for teachers to develop relationships with children and build routines and communities,” said Dr. Christine Maxwell, Director of the New Schools Project at Erikson Institute.

Maxwell, who works with individual CPS elementary schools by helping on-site professional development for faculty, also said excessive testing can be disruptive to children who are learning to build attention spans.

Jennifer Cheatham, CPS Chief of Instruction, said the optional tests, which she called “performance tasks and diagnostic assessments,” are given based on decisions made by principals and teachers at individual schools, and are meant to help teachers develop a “well-rounded picture of how students are doing" in terms of the common core.

“Every teacher at every school should have access to diagnostics, though not necessarily the district’s,” Cheatham said, adding that teachers can come up with their own, to adapt their teaching to individual children based student performance, Cheatham said.

Parents are concerned in part because some of the tests require pulling individual students out of class one at a time, with the teacher, which breaks the classroom flow.

“I’d like to see more types of assessments that are embedded in classroom methods,” the Erikson Institute’s Maxwell said.