By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Contrasting “then and now,” Assistant Superintendent of Schools Claire Jackson began Tuesday night’s School Committee presentation about kindergarten by saying, “I am a product of the generation who remembers kindergarten as my most exciting grade because I spent most of [the time] fishing—with a magnet at the end of a [toy] fishing pole.”
Jackson then explained how “times have changed” and that, although kindergarten literally means “children’s garden” and was founded on the philosophy of learning through play, the pressures of today’s high-stakes testing have all but eliminated play from the kindergarten experience, accelerating knowledge and skills acquisition down through to the youngest grades.
Jackson said that this downward pressure has meant that, in order to achieve high test scores and meet community expectations, school districts have had to “plan backwards.” As an example, Jackson said that because the Common Core requires mastery of Algebra I at the 8th grade level instead of the 9th grade level, the whole math curriculum and continuum must adjust to reflect that change.
To compete internationally, education reform is attempting to address the criticism that US curriculum standards are “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Therefore, “the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks now contain very explicit learning goals for both pre-K and K.”
”Yes, that’s pre-K,” Jackson emphasized.
In 2008— five years ago—the expectations in mathematics were that kindergarteners would be able, by year’s end, to recite numbers from 1 to 20; understand the concepts of “whole” and “half”; identify simple, repeating patterns (AB, ABC, ABB etc.); identify coins; and demonstrate an understanding of addition and subtraction of the single digits up to 10.
Today, by contrast, the rigor compelled by state and national standards requires kindergarteners to recite numbers to 100; understand the relationship between numbers and quantities (less than, equal to, greater than, etc.); draw simple number equations (5= 2+3, 5=4+1); describe measurable attributes like weight and length; identify shapes as two or three dimensional; and identify simple as well as more complex shapes.
“This is an enormous change,” Jackson said.
Differences in “then and now” reading and writing skills attainment are equally enormous, according to comparisons that Jackson provided.
Jackson concluded the presentation by saying that, with the current 3 ½ day kindergarten schedule, there is little-to-no room for play or for a less pressured approach to learning that is known to be better suited for the youngest students.
“Play is still the best way young children learn,” Jackson said. She also reported that this philosophy is shared by newly-hired Davis School Principal Beth Benoit who will start on July 1.
“The success of all kindergarteners in the years ahead is dependent on how well we meet the new standards,” Jackson said. “To meet the new standards, we need more time for the children as well as time for teachers to re-think and re-organize instruction.”