Overview of Position Statement by the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education
Over the past several years members of NAECS/SDE have become increasingly alarmed at emerging attitudes and practices which erode children's legal rights to enter public school and participate in a beneficial educational program. Dramatic changes in what children are expected to do in kindergarten are resulting in well intentioned interventions which are often inequitable, ineffective, and wasteful of limited public resources.
Many classroom teachers report that they have little or no part in decisions which determine curriculum and instructional methodology. Instead, those decisions are made by administrators, influenced by public demand for more stringent educational standards and the ready availability of commercial, standardized tests.
Additional pressure on kindergarten programs sometimes comes from primary teachers, who themselves face requirements for more effective instruction and higher pupil achievement. They argue that the kindergarten program should do more. In addition, a growing number of states and localities are raising the age of kindergarten eligibility, providing further evidence of changed expectations for kindergarten education and kindergarten children.
A number of highly questionable practices have resulted from the trend to demand more of kindergarten children. These practices include: 1) inappropriate uses of screening and readiness tests; 2) denial or discouragement of entrance for eligible children; 3) the development of segregated transitional classes for children deemed unready for the next traditional level of school; and 4) an increasing use of retention.
Two predominant considerations underlie these practices. The first is a drive to achieve homogeneity in instructional groupings. Some educators believe that instruction will be easier and more effective if the variability within the class is reduced. There is, however, no compelling evidence that children learn more or better in homogeneous groupings. In fact, most of them learn more efficiently and achieve more satisfactory social/emotional development in mixed ability groups.
The second is a well intentioned effort to protect children from inappropriately high demands on their intellectual and affective abilities. When parents are counseled to delay a child's entry or when children are placed in "developmental" or "readiness" classes to prepare for kindergarten or "transitional" classes to prepare for first grade, it is often because the school program is perceived to be too difficult for those children. In this view, children must be made ready for the program, in contrast to tailoring the program to the strengths and needs of the children.
Delaying children's entry into school and/or segregating them into extra year classes actually label children as failures at the outset of their school experience. These practices are simply subtle forms of retention. Not only is there a preponderance of evidence that there is no academic benefit from retention in its many forms, but there also appear to be threats to the social emotional development of the child subjected to such practices. The educational community can no longer afford to ignore the consequences of policies and practices which: 1 ) assign the burden of responsibility to the child, rather than the program; 2) place the child at risk of failure, apathy toward school, and demoralization; and 3) fail to contribute to quality early childhood education.
Resources on Unacceptable Trends
Bredekamp, S. and Shepard, L. "How best to protect children from inappropriate school expectations, practices, and policies," Young Children, 44(3), 1989.