Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Today's Great Idea: Let's Borrow Money from A Bankrupt Federal Government to Create and Administer Tests for Pre-Kindergartners

Our State Department of Education (OSDE) through Governor Mary Fallin sold the public on applying for the Race to The Top Early Learning Challenge (to pay for pre-k programming) by saying they would be applying for this grant to "...invest in upgrades to our teacher training, our data tracking and improved testing." She also goes on to tell Megan Rolland, "We're not establishing new programs ..."

Who is advising our governor? Clearly, from Rolland’s new article today, “Entry exam for kindergartners is part of Oklahoma’s grant application” they had every intent of establishing a new program – that of TESTING INCOMING KINDERGARTNERS. In fact, after reviewing the RTT grant’s FAQ’s, it became readily apparent that this NEW program was added so Oklahoma could be more competitive for the grant:

Competitive Preference Priority 3, is Understanding the Status of Children’s Early Learning and Development at Kindergarten Entry through the implementation of a Kindergarten Entry Assessment. Applicants that successfully meet Competitive Preference Priority 2 can receive up to 10 additional points, and applicants that successfully meet Competitive Preference Priority 3 can earn 10 additional points on an “all or nothing” basis.

So, as I have asked before, is this RTT grant about pre-K programming, or money? It isn’t about telling Oklahomans the “truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” apparently. I have had four kids graduate kindergarten in Oklahoma – one 24 years ago, one just last year. None of them was given a test before entry.

Governor Fallin originally told Rolland that part of the money from this grant would be used to develop the OSDE data system, however, there was no mention in that article of linking up data from kindergarten testing to this statewide database. How much information do they have to have on our kids and is there any apparent moratorium on the age of the child on which they are willing to collect data? After all, pre-K programming is defined as any program from birth to kindergarten.

ROPE has done quite a bit of research on the P20 (pre-K through 20 years) Longitudinal Data System the Obama administration is ‘helping’ states (using ARRA funds) set up in order to ‘make data-driven decisions to improve student learning, as well as facilitate research to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps’. This data is far reaching and because of proposed changes in FERPA regulations, may result in schools collecting information from children WITHOUT parent permission (page 17).

Barresi also says in Rolland’s previous article that, "It's (RTT grant) not a federal mandate or a state mandate that children have to go to early learning; it's totally voluntary."

How voluntary will state-funded pre-K programming become when, upon assessing incoming kindergartners with yet ANOTHER test, a child is deemed NOT ready for Kindergarten?

"We're so sorry Mrs. Smith, your child flunked the Kindergarten Test and you will need to put him into state funded public pre-school until he exhibits greater kindergarten readiness."

Though parents in OKC Public Schools have had access to full day kindergarten only in the last five years, there are already PASS Skills for Kindergarten and the Common Core State Standards will make those even tougher.

Reading: The CCSS emphasize increasing complexity of text and reading for information in all curricular disciplines. A paradigm shift will occur from kindergarten through seventh grade. In kindergarten classrooms, student will read 50% literary texts and 50% informational materials.

So, instead of a parent enrolling a child in kindergarten for reasons such as socialization and developing skills to help increase readiness for first grade, now we’ll be giving kindergartners a test to make sure they can ‘hack’ the rigorous ‘college-ready’ standards of PASS and the Common Core?

Many discussions have been had in the literature about testing kindergartners and not all elicit confidence in such a procedure. Interestingly, a paper uploaded onto the OSDE website called, “Prepared For Kindergarten: What Does ‘Readiness’ Mean?” provides the following quote:

Discontinue the use of invalid readiness tests to determine readiness for kindergarten. This results in bad decisions and wastes taxpayer dollars.”

Apparently the authors of the article above understand more about the profligate costs of testing than do either our State Superintendent or Governor. The article says that Oklahoma will pay 16.75 MILLION dollars (the LARGEST allocation of money in the entire grant!) for “developing and administering a new test for students before they enter kindergarten”, yet it doesn’t draw attention to other articles addressing the fact that Oklahoma has had so many problems with testing companies in the last decade (Pearson in particular), that we have employed no less than five to do the job of creating and delivering assessments to Oklahoma students.

I suppose that if the nearly 17 million dollars we get to develop and implement these tests are just those crazy ‘free’ dollars from the feds, what does it matter the cost? As with so many other state and federal government employees, our governor and superintendent clearly need us to install the DEBT CLOCK widget on the home page of their taxpayer provided computers.

Just a question Superintendent Barresi and Governor Fallin – when the ‘free’ money runs out (and mark my words, it will) what are you going to do then? Who’s going to pay for these wildly important pre-K-programs then? My guess is the Oklahoma tax payer.