Educational research shows that investing in pre-kindergarten education is just about the most cost-effective expenditure the state could make. Research also tells us that full-time pre-K has a bigger payoff in terms of student success than part-time pre-K, and that pre-K especially benefits economically disadvantaged children.
These facts have led state Sen. Wendy Davis, Democratic candidate for governor, to advocate expansion of quality pre-K to make it universally available on a full-day basis for all Texas children. Texas AFT applauds that initiative.
In contrast, her opponent, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott has proposed a meager amount of funding—not enough even to restore the already-modest state grants for full-day pre-K in selected districts that were wiped out by the harsh state budget cuts of 2011. Abbott also has implied erroneously that he alone is concerned about the quality of pre-K programs, and he has said that among the quality-control measures he would consider is the use of standardized assessments.
For many educators, this conjures up visions of a move in exactly the wrong direction on standardized testing, pushing STAAR-like achievement tests down into preschool, with high stakes attached—including access to funding. The push to assess preschoolers is already a problem in some districts, where the looming third-grade STAAR tests have been allowed to create a perverse incentive for developmentally inappropriate testing in kindergarten and preschool. The only winners from this practice are the testing companies that profit from the proliferation of standardized assessments.
Last year in the Texas legislature two bills filed with Texas AFT’s support would have imposed new constraints on testing in these early grades. SB 1608 by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the San Antonio Democrat now running for lieutenant governor, and HB 504 by Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, Democrat of Houston, were companion bills that would have set limits on the ability of the state and districts to impose standardized tests on students in pre-K and kindergarten. Exceptions for diagnostic testing were built into the legislation, which nonetheless still ran into resistance from the testing lobby.
At the hearing on SB 1608, witnesses cited the stressful and stultifying impact of inappropriate, time-consuming testing on these youngsters. For children who are at an age when discovering the joy of learning is so critical, one witness testified, the focus on standardized test-taking teaches the wrong lesson. Supposedly the intent of such STAAR-like assessments is to ensure that students are “kindergarten-ready,” but the danger is that students will show up for kindergarten and first grade having learned that “I am here to pass the test,” as one youngster put it.
Similar legislation to limit preschool testing has now been proposed in the U.S. Congress, as part of the Strong Start for America’s Children Act (S. 1697 and H.R. 3461), by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, and U.S. Rep. George Miller, Democrat of California. Cosponsors in the U.S. House include four Texans: U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, Ruben Hinojosa of Edinburg, Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, and Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.
Sens. Davis and Van de Putte are on the right track on this issue and should not listen to the apologists for high-stakes standardized testing in preschool who apparently have gained the ear of Attorney General Abbott.