Back at the start of the school year, before she could get her class at West Towson Elementary humming along in a regular routine, Bianca Crockett had to pull each of her 18 students from the classroom and individually give them the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, the KRA.
For the next two weeks, she spent two to three hours with each student while a substitute ran her class.
"It happens at a very intense time of the year" Crockett says. “We’re just getting to know these kids. And to meet me, for the first time, in a room, when I’m asking you 50,000 questions back to back to back to back to back, it’s very, very time consuming."
That’s one of the reasons The Maryland State Education Association, the teachers union, wants the General Assembly to ban state-mandated tests for children in kindergarten through second grade. There are no such tests for first- and second-graders, so we’re talking about the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment.
Cheryl Bost, vice president of the MSEA, says their objection is partly a philosophical question. Should children that young be put through this assessment?
"Is that really the best use of our dollars?” she wonders. “Is that the best use of instructional time when we see many other things that are working?"
But Bill Reinhard with the state Department of Education says assessing kindergarteners works. While the KRA is new this year, Reinhard says Maryland schools have been testing kindergarteners for more than a decade.
"We’ve taken the information we’ve gleaned from this assessment and gone back to Head Start programs and day care centers and pre-K programs and helped them improve their curriculum that they provide these young students," he says.
That way, those young students are better prepared to enter kindergarten. Reinhard points to a state report, released last year, showed 83 percent of Maryland students entering kindergarten were ready for it. Twelve years ago, the vast majority were not, he says.
Susan Hershfeld, the principal at West Towson Elementary, says she’s not sure where things stand with the KRA because it’s new. But she says assessments are critical in letting educators know what students know.
"Without testing, without some sort of assessment, we’re just making guesses," she says.
Opponents of the KRA say there are better types of testing available. They say the KRA is testing kindergartners on what they should have learned in pre-K. There’s another test children at West Towson Elementary take on a computer. It’s called the MAP test, which stands for Measures of Academic Progress.
That program can tell how well a student is doing and adjust questions accordingly. If a student is ripping it up, MAP will ask more challenging questions. Second grader Anna Jakubiak thinks that’s pretty cool.
"I like seeing if I know all the questions," Anna says. "I like getting my grades after I take them."
The state education association also wants the General Assembly to create a task force to study testing across grade levels.