Why Texas Makes Kindergarteners Take Standardized Tests

Claudia De Leon and her daughter Paloma, who is in kindergarten.
High stakes testing is a hot button issue in public education. State lawmakers are poised to scale back tests in high school. But some parents are worried about tests for younger kids — as young as kindergarten.

Kindergarten has meant two very different things for Claudia De Leon and her two children.

Two years ago, her son Diego did a lot of artwork and started learning Spanish.

This year, her daughter Paloma has spent a lot of time on standardized tests.

“In these two years, with the same teacher in the same school, what is being taught or what the children are getting is so different. And now the curriculum is so narrowed and so laser focused that you will not find something in a classroom if it’s not on the test.”

She wants her kids to learn other things in kindergarten.

“Learning about how to behave in a classroom, learning how to listen to the teacher, learning how to focus on your work even though your neighbor might be wiggling in their seat. And now it’s just about the test. Any child is more than a test score.”

“Yeah, that’s definitely true.”

Texas requires two kinds of tests in kindergarten. One screens for gifted and talented students. The other checks reading skills and any problems there.

self portrait of Diego
Claudia De Leon, holding a self portrait of her son Diego. She says kindergarten was very different for her son and her daughter, even though they attended the same school and had the same teacher.

DeEtta Culbertson is with the Texas Education Agency.

“Testing in kindergarten is a positive in terms of helping to identify and get students help early on if they do have learning disabilities. It’s not like the STARR test. It’s not a pass fail, or impinges a student’s promotion requirements or anything like that.”

Individual school districts get to pick what tests to use.

In Houston, the district uses three ways to see if a student is extra talented.

One of those tests is also tied to teacher evaluations and bonuses.

The HISD board of trustees is switching that exam from what’s known as the Stanford test to the Iowa test.

The new contract is worth almost $11 million dollars. It will pay for those exams for students in twelfth grade all the way down to kindergarten.

HISD trustee Harvin Moore says some testing is good.

“We do have to be accountable for results, we have to measure what we think is important and then we try to use measurements which are accurate and I think tests are getting better.”

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones has a different opinion.

“As a parent of five kids, I just did not ever see a reason ever why my three, four, five year olds have to sit for hours of testing.”

HISD administrators say parents can opt out if they don’t want their kindergartners taking a standardized test.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...