Kindergarten and the Common Core: A problematic pairing

Boys in their jellyfish and octopus habitat hats

The Common Core is Srs Bzns.  Everyone knows the Common Core is serious business, replete with rigor and weighed down with supporting evidence drawn from the text.  The Common Core is intended to produce college-and-career-ready high school graduates who are smarter and better educated than any American students have been before.

There’s a lot of talk about the intended outcome of the 13 years of schooling today’s kindergarteners will have experienced by the time they graduate from high school, and it sounds very impressive.  But I haven’t heard any conversation or consideration of the “raw material” that comprises the initial input into this system:  five-year-old children.

Ready for Common Core? Or not?

Are these boys ready for Common Core? Or not?

Five-year-old children can be very different from each other.  Any group of five-year-old children will be diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, languages spoken in their home, living arrangements, religion, family structure, health and disability status, educational experiences had at home/in childcare/at preschool, and life histories up to this point.  Further, each individual five-year-old has a unique developmental profile that includes his or her cognitive, social, emotional, and physical developmental levels, temperament, likes and dislikes, concerns and pleasures, fears and strengths.  Every kindergarten teacher knows this.

Before the Common Core, kindergarten teachers had reasonable responsibilities: to

(1) take their students from where they are developmentally at the start of the year and move them forward as far as possible in all developmental domains; (2) introduce their students to the routines and expectations of classroom life, such as raising your hand to speak, taking turns, writing your name on your paper; and (3) get each student as ready for first grade as possible, given the specific developmental profile of each child.  This typically included things like learning to hold crayons and pencils, learning the letters of the alphabet and sounds each letter makes, learning to count and to write numbers, and learning to cut with scissors.

To assess kindergarteners’ progress, teachers would generally compare an individual student’s current levels of academic, social-emotional, and physical skill to the levels of skill that student demonstrated at the beginning of the kindergarten.  This approach, called a “growth model,” focuses on each student’s individual progress within a given time frame.  Kindergarten teachers would document their students’ progress across all developmental domains and share this information with their students, the students’ families, and with their school administrators.

Kindergarteners were not assessed in ways that compared one student to another, nor were they measured against predetermined learning outcomes.  Since some children begin kindergarten with a great deal of academic knowledge and skill and other children begin kindergarten with very little academic knowledge and skill, establishing the same predetermined learning goals for every kindergarten student is developmentally inappropriate practice.

Expecting all kinders to meet identical learning goals is developmentally inappropriate practice. Click To Tweet

The authors of the Common Core made a very unwise decision when they established predetermined learning outcomes that every kindergartener would be expected to meet by the end of the school year. This decision demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the realities of child development.  Even typically developing five-year-olds are likely to experience some degree of failure to master the many standards they are expected to learn.

The Common Core is creating significant problems for kindergarten students and their teachers.  The Common Core State Standards reflect an approach to assessment—called a “mastery model”—that is quite different from the growth model typically favored by kindergarten teachers.  In a mastery model, standards (sometimes called “learning outcomes”) are established for each grade level and all students are expected to demonstrate mastery of those standards by the end of the academic year.  To move their students toward mastery, teachers are expected to “backwards map” from the standards by locating, designing, customizing, finding. improvising, and developing appropriate, effective instructional materials to help their students learn the knowledge and master the skills specified in the standards for their grade level.

So, here’s how things stand in kindergarten today:

  • The Common Core specifies a body of knowledge and skills in mathematics and in English Language Arts that all kindergarteners are expected to master by the end of the school year.
  • Every child begins kindergarten with a different developmental profile and develops at a different rate from his or her classmates.
  • Every student—regardless of the levels of knowledge and skill demonstrated at the beginning of kindergarten—is expected to master the same set of academic expectations by June.

As you can see, this is an impossible situation.  So where does this leave kindergarten students and their teachers?

Five-year-olds still begin kindergarten with very varied developmental profiles and progress at different rates in each developmental domain during their kindergarten year.  Kindergarten teachers still work patiently with every student to help him or her get as well-prepared for first grade as possible.

Teachers know that students who haven’t mastered the kindergarten standards by June will typically begin first grade at a distinct disadvantage. This makes teaching kindergarten very stressful work.  So please be kind to all the kindergarten teachers you encounter.  The Common Core has really wreaked havoc on their professional lives and they might appreciate our support.

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