Testing of young children has come under hot debate, according to a recent New York Times article. In the United States, the practice had fallen out of favor for decades among educators, who worry that it “stifles creativity and harms self-esteem”, and “does not accurately reflect the style and irregular pace of children’s learning”.
But recently, the “no test” philosophy for young children has been coming under assault, as new government programs strongly promote the practice. In 2003, the No Child Left Behind program took effect and required states to give all students standardized tests. Now, President Obama’s Race to the Top educational competition encourages more reliance on “formative tests”. Unlike the SATs, these are not the big one-off exams, but a stream of smaller tests designed to help students and their teachers measure their progress.
Some education experts hail the change as a step forward from the “ideological dark ages”. “Research has long shown that more frequent testing is beneficial to kids, but educators have resisted this finding,” said Gregory J. Cizek, a professor of educational measurement and evaluation at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Of course, the tests have to be age-appropriate, Professor Cizek notes. And “high stakes” tests should be avoided, as they create anxiety and may unfairly hurt a youngster’s future based on poor performance on a single day.
Moreover, Professor Cizek disagreed with prevailing philosophy of offering young children unconditional praise and support. “What’s best for kids is frequent testing, where even if they do badly, they can get help and improve and have the satisfaction of doing better,” he said. “Kids don’t get self-esteem by people just telling them they are wonderful.”
Some educators, of course, strongly protest the recent changes. However, life is full of all kinds of tests so, at some point, "you have to get used to it", argues the article. “When testing is commonplace and the teachers are supportive, the tests felt like so many puzzles; not so much a judgment on your being, but an interesting challenge.”