Is high stakes testing of young children harming their brains?

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) reports that Washington DC, the center of the corporate education reform world, is about to being high stakes testing of 3 and 4 year olds.

...all of the city’s Pre-K and lower elementary charter school programs will forthwith be ranked according to a weighted formula that assigns between 60 and 80% of a school’s overall performance to student reading and math scores. And although the proposal includes the possibility for schools to “opt-in” to adding an assessment that measures the social and emotional (SEL) growth of children, it would count for just 15% of the total for Preschool and PreK, and 10% for Kindergarten.

On the face of it, this is testing gone mad, but the problems might be much more severe for the well-being of the young students themselves

This sort of weighted formula squares neatly with the latest trends in education policy. It does not, however, align with the latest research on the brain.

“Everything that happens to us affects the way the brain develops,” says Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the author of The Whole Brain Child. “The brain is a social organ, made to be in relationship. What happens between brains has a great deal to do with what happens within each individual brain . . . [And] the physical architecture of the brain changes according to where we direct our attention and what we practice doing.”

Where we direct our attention, then, matters greatly when it comes to determining what our children will practice doing, and how their brains will develop. And what scholars like Siegel are saying is that the worst thing we can do is disproportionately weight one piece of the developmental puzzle. “We want to help our children become better integrated so they can use their whole brain in a coordinated way,” he explains. “We want them to be horizontally integrated, so that their left-brain logic can work well with their right-brain emotion. We also want them to be vertically integrated, so that the physically higher parts of the brain, which let them thoughtfully consider their actions, work well with the lower parts, which are more concerned with instinct, gut reactions, and survival.”

The testing mania, especially for younger students, needs a timeout.