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More Absurd Kindergarten Homework

Published in ChicagoNow, March 2, 2015

If you thought it was crazy to expect a 5-year-old who can’t read yet to do reading comprehension” homework in kindergarten, check out the rest of my grandson’s homework packet. The part that killed me was the requirement to “write neatly in pencil” over and over. That’s asking a lot from a little guy whose fine motor skills and attention span make this challenging.

The first developmentally inappropriate expectation is the writer’s checklist (which he can’t read yet, but we’ll skip that minor point), outlining 4 rules for writing:

  1. Start with a capital letter. While my grandson seems to understand this rule sometimes and knows the difference between upper and lower case letters, this is not a reasonable expectation for kindergarten. Maybe it’s a goal, but I’m pretty sure not all kindergarteners are capable of this.

  2. Use finger spaces between words. The illustration shows an index finger between each word in a sentence. No way can he do that consistently. He is still struggling to keep his words on the line, which is totally normal for a child his age.

  3. Use punctuation. This means putting a period at the end of each sentence. I guess he can make a dot, but he has no idea what a sentence is.

  4. Use lower case letters. See first comment. Many 5-year-olds are still struggling to master that “E” and “e” are the same letter.

Now that the rules are in place, let’s write. But wait. Writing means copying a high frequency word 10 times in his best handwriting, following the checklist rules. So here is his effort to write “are”:

And again, to write “my”:

Even more torture lies ahead, as he has to complete his math worksheet. Now, my grandson happens to be good at math. He counted backwards from 100 to 1, and that wasn’t even his assignment. He can add numbers quickly in his head. But ask him to, “Write the number 13 five times in your notebook. Be sure to use the finger space between your number 13’s. Say the name of each number after you write it. Draw 13 squares in your notebook,” and here’s what you get:

This is a test of his fine motor pencil skills, which are still developing, rather than an opportunity to work with his math skills. There is no way he can draw 13 perfect boxes. Besides, just drawing plain boxes makes no sense to him when he can turn them into robots:

Note that his teacher finds his addition of a robot “13” funny. I think she knows this rote homework assignment the school requires her to give is not how kindergarteners learn best.

While Congress is debating the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), I am hoping members the education committee, under the leadership of Senator Lamar Alexander, actually looks at the data. Under the auspices of ESEA, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) became law in 2002, followed by Race to the Top (RTTT) in 2009.

A policy memo published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) calls for moving education away from the high stakes testing model that has been in place for the past 13 years. Actual data reveal that it hasn’t worked. The problem isn’t fixing the tests, but rather making them cease to be the focus of teaching our kids.

This important memo addressed to Congress and the Obama administration has the backing of over 1,200 actual education experts. It states,

“We are researchers and professors in colleges, universities, and other research institutions throughout the United States with scholarly and practical expertise in public education, including education policy, school reform, teaching and learning, assessment, and educational equity. As Congress revises and reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities. The current reauthorization provides an historic opportunity to leverage federal resources to address the deeper and more systemic problems with strategies that research has compellingly demonstrated to be far more effective in improving the educational opportunities and success of all students, particularly those in highest need.”

These true education experts, as opposed to politicians, businessmen, and textbook and testing companies, agree that:

  • Education should not focus on high stakes standardized testing and using the results to punish teachers and schools when their kids perform poorly on these tests.

  • Funding and support for policies that have been proven to ensure student success are lacking.

  • Acknowledgement that the majority of public school children in America come from low-income families is extremely important. Issues like parental employment, stable housing, and food insecurity have a huge impact on learning, and addressing them must be part of improving educational opportunities for all.

  • Narrow curriculum focused on teaching to and preparing for the high stakes tests does not serve our children or create future citizens capable of creative and independent thinking, lifelong learning, or civic engagement.

  • Demeaning teachers and limiting their creativity drives the best and brightest away from the profession.

  • Emphasis on reading and math comes at the expense of a balanced education that should also include social studies, science, literature, and the arts.

  • Data reveal little connection between scores on high stakes standardized tests and actual outcomes for children.

  • Children with special needs, English language learners, and children living in poverty are especially harmed by this test-focused approach to education.

The NEA policy memo concludes that the educational reform movement that started with NCLB is a failure. “An incremental increase in reading or math scores means almost nothing, particularly if children’s engagement is decreased.” The educational gaps NCLB and RTTT sought to address have actually become larger. The movement has changed the focus of education from learning to testing, and it’s the children who have suffered.

Here’s the latest kindergarten homework my grandson is trying to avoid because it just snowed and he wants to play. He’s being asked to look at the title and cover of an illustrated book and “make a prediction” of what it is about. He has to draw his prediction and “write” about it. Then he has to read the book, decide if his prediction was correct, make a second drawing of what the book was really about, and “write” about that. How’s that for absurd expectations for a 5-year-old? He chooses a book about Spiderman called Spiderman with Spiderman on the cover. Well, you get the idea. He has zero patience for making the second drawing because his first one was correct. Shockingly, the book is about Spiderman.

In the meantime, it is snowy and perfect weather for sledding. My young grandson is inside crying over completing this latest example of inappropriate kindergarten homework. I have to start somewhere, so I’m advocating for a little boy who is still creative and imaginative.

Please don’t squash his enthusiasm for learning under a pile of inappropriate and meaningless homework. He’s just in kindergarten.


by Laurie Levy
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