today i broke a seven year old

I spent the entire day in the school’s media center testing reading comprehension.

This is an important, formative task that I do constantly, on-the-fly in my classroom.

But today I didn’t test my own kids. I tested first graders. And next week the first grade teachers will test my kids and the rest of the kindergarteners. Why? My guess is that the district, state and federal government do not trust us to test our own kids. We might cheat because our evaluations are tied to these scores.

I listened to kid after kid reading books. The iPad told me what level each one needed to start at. The teachers had no input into the process. Any child who read above “level E,” was then given a sheet of two comprehension questions – front and back. They had to go to a table in the center of the room and finish the story and write responses to the written comp questions.

Then they waited for me to finish whoever I was currently testing so they could come back, have their writing compared to the company’s rubric and then answer oral questions about the story.

Then there were the following paths. If you scored well, you got to start the above process all over with a higher level book and that continued until you hit a level where your score was some arbitrary median score. If you scored some arbitrary median score, the iPad would deem you finished and you could return to your classroom. If you scored poorly, you got to start the above process all over with a lower level book and that continued until you hit a level where your score was stable.

Some kids read 4 books. That means they had 4 writing tests, too.

First graders.

MANY of whom are ESL kids who only started learning English in school last year when we had them in kindergarten.

And the writing rubrics are brutal.

Some of the books have drawing tasks in place of a writing question. They have to draw a specified part of the story to prove they have understood what they read. And the rubric for the drawings is VERY specific.

Writing scores are 0, 1, 2, or 3. 2 and 3 are passing and 1 and 0 are an automatic failure and a bump to a lower level book.

And remember there are two writing questions for each book? The scores are NOT averaged. The lowest score is the final score. The LOWEST score!

Of course the kids don’t know this.

But they wonder and ask… Why did I have to read again and she got to go back to the room?

They worry about their level… I’m reading Level J in the computer lab. Are you sure this is a J book? My mom wants me only to read J books!

We can’t respond to anything, of course.

Oh and the kid I broke? She’s the sweetest, most kind, quiet, shy little angel, who reads beautifully. She was so excited as she picked out a particular book from her choices. She told me something that she wanted to learn about this book (I dare not reveal the book here). I told her that if she found that information, she could tell me when she came back after writing her answers.

She read this high level book with no errors. She was smiling confidently.

And then I sent her off to write. I had other kids writing and was swapping kids in and out of my space to read or answer orally or get scored. I kept glancing at the writing kids, but the admins were also watching the kids to be sure everyone was on task and not talking.

This little girl’s back was to me in the middle of the room and she seemed to be writing every time I looked at her. She was bent over the paper with her pencil in her hand.

Suddenly, as I was getting a new kid to read with, one of the other teachers who was testing said, “Is that your kid? You need to get her because she’s been crying.”

Been crying? Why didn’t someone tell me? And I SHOULD have checked on her earlier because she’d been writing a long time, but many others were, too, and I was constantly busy. And I thought the admins were on top of the kids in the middle. Justification. I SHOULD have checked.

She was not crying. She was weeping uncontrollably. I knelt down next to her and looked at her paper. One side was blank and the other side had a couple of sentences. I asked if the writing was too hard. She nodded yes.

I took her to my space and got her kleenex and told her it was okay and not to worry.

I asked an admin if I could delay her next book until tomorrow and was told that I could.

I went back to this little one to comfort her. Because I knew that she had a 0 on one side for the blank, I was going to push her back to the next lower level, and the current test would be meaningless, I felt confident that I could talk to her about the writing she had attempted.

First, I read her two sentences. They were a very good response to the prompt. She deserved a 3 for that side. And with her 0 on the other side… yes, she got that 0.

I complimented her writing and her well thought out answer. Then I said, tell me what was hard on the other side. She pointed to the first three words of the prompt and said, “I didn’t know these three words.”

Identify the text features…

Precious girl.

I pushed the paper aside and said, “Well, those are very complicated words. But what I want to know is… And I asked her the question that she had wondered about before she started to read.”

Some light came back into her eyes and she told me the answer right away. We then talked about the book and the wonders that she had discovered. She showed me the pictures and told me complicated facts. She fully understood everything she had read.

I said, “Do you want to read another book today or tomorrow.” And she said, “Today.”

So she did.

But all the bandaids I put on her heart during our conversation about that book will never fully repair the damage of those many minutes where she was convinced that she wasn’t a capable, strong reader.

At the end of the day, a wise teacher said to me, “What did we learn from these tests that we didn’t already know?”

I learned that one can break a spirit all too easily.

The cost of these tests is too high.

But I already knew those things.


we always know

You can’t diagnose problems in kindergarten.

Well, really, teachers can’t diagnose anything because we are not medical professionals. According to the press, business leaders and most politicians, we are not even professionals in our own field. Our opinions are suspect. 

I digress. Starting back at the top…

You can’t diagnose problems in kindergarten, but we always know.

We can spot problems even if we don’t have the accurate medical or psychological name for that problem.

We can tell you which kids will probably never pass a standardized test. 

We can tell you if a problem is “just a language thing” (English as a Second Language – ESL) or something that would be a problem EVEN if the child was being taught in his or her native language.

But since we are kindergarten teachers – the lowest rung of the educational ladder – apparently, we are considered silly. 

I’ve been known to be very silly in my classroom. I can dress up or down. I dance badly. I sing loudly. I giggle at jokes that make no sense. 

But when it comes to the issues that I observe in my unending stream of kinders, I am very serious. And my teammates and I know our stuff. 

We know the difference between shyness and autism. 

We know when a speech problem will probably be resolved by time and when one needs intervention by a specialist. 

We know when a phobia is extreme.

We know when a reading problem is severe enough to warrant a cry for help. 

We know when number sense doesn’t make sense and we know how to fix that and we know when we are unable to fix it. 

We know when a developmental delay is simple enough that a child will catch up in a year or two and we know when one is severe enough that it will hinder a child forever. 

We know our own limitations and our own strengths when it comes to fixing these problems.

When I bring a child before the tribunal to decide if his or her issue is of enough importance to call in the specialists and get to the root of the problem, I believe that I have exhausted every other path and that someone else needs to step in on this child’s behalf. 

I KNOW testing and specialists are expensive. I know that the EC teachers’ schedules are overloaded and I know their paperwork is hellacious. But I wouldn’t suggest you spend your precious funding on one of my kids without just cause. I’m not trying to pick your pocket. I’m trying to get help for a child in need.

When I advocate for a child in first grade. In first grade again after he is retained. And again in second grade when I loop with him, I am righteous in my indignation at being ignored and seeing him cast aside year after year. 

“It’s just a language problem.”

Well, yeah. He has trouble learning English (and reading and math and science and his lunch number and everything else) because he has trouble learning and everything I have done hasn’t cracked his code. 

So it isn’t just a language problem.

A wise speech teacher once told me, “Always advocate for your kids in the lowest grades because you ALWAYS know.” I told him that no one ever listened to us. He replied, “And how many times has your analysis of a problem been found to be true later on?” MANY times. “And what grade do they usually start paying attention to problems?”

Third grade. When standardized End of Grade tests begin in our state. After all the red tape, they start getting help in fourth grade, but they are typically so far behind at that point that it’s too late. 

But his words stuck with me. And I continue to push for my kids. They deserve better than being written off for 3-4 years. They deserve the help and services that could make all the difference in their future. 

Because we always know. 


Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance
To the company
Pearson PLC
And to the profit
For which it stands.
One curriculum,
With rigor and accountability
For all.


I hope to NEVER hear this in my classroom.



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