Although educators have repeatedly called for an end to high-stakes testing of young children, the push for educational accountability had led to a significant increase in testing, including testing at younger ages. Julia Carol James, Big A and Eastanollee Elementary School, and C. Kenneth Tanner, University of Georgia, report that the disruption to learning and the stress created by standardized tests is detrimental to young students’ achievement. Moreover, they warn that the potential for misinterpretation of tests results is considerably higher with young children.
James and Tanner believe that although test results can provide an indication of a young child’s developmental stage, they are unreliable indicators of a child’s potential for future school success. Many tests used with young children have an error rate in the range of 50 percent. In addition, negative labels acquired from testing can lead to a lack of acceptance and lowered expectancy for a child, factors that can further inhibit achievement. The use of standardized testing for placement in transitional classes or for retention, they argue, cannot be justified since retention has proved to be as ineffective in kindergarten as in later grades.
These researchers also point out that test-driven instruction for children leads to heightened academic pressure. Young children, they write, show such stress-related symptoms as unwarranted fear of failure and school avoidance behaviors. Furthermore, standardized testing tends to have a negative impact on curriculum by narrowing the focus to rote skills. Low-achieving children suffer the most because their poor test performance often places them in groups receiving repetitive, basic-skills training.
Because of the possibility of error, James and Tanner advise against using a single test for educational placement. They recommend that all assessments of young children include such instruments as teacher-rating scales, objective measures of self-concept/attitude toward school as well as observation in more than one setting.
Testing should emphasize ability to evaluate and synthesize
To meet the individual needs of students, James and Tanner concede that tests can be useful for ongoing assessment and revision of instructional programs. Standardized tests are also useful in providing information about what groups of children know. However, the researchers emphasize that readiness assessments should not be used for tracking, retention or denial of school entry.
Assessment of young children, in their opinion, must allow children to demonstrate their understanding in real situations. Testing should emphasize their ability to evaluate and synthesize information and to solve problems, rather than their ability to choose correct answers in a multiple-choice format. James and Tanner suggest that observation over time also provides a more accurate picture of a child’s capabilities. They encourage educators to challenge test developers to design instruments that support rather than detract from meaningful instruction.
“Standardized Testing of Young Children”, Journal of Research and Development in Education, Volume 26, Number 3, pp. 143-151.
Published in ERN September/Octobert 1993, Volume 6, Number 4.