LINCOLN PARK — Chicago Public Schools students as young as 5 are taking standardized tests for math and reading on computers, a practice that is skewing the test results and taking the fun out of learning on computers, some educators say.
The testing schedule for students in kindergarten through second grade, mandated this school year, requires them to take the computerized Northwest Evaluation Association test twice a year and offers optional testing in the middle of the year.
"Five-year-olds are being mandated to use computers with mice to test them on reading, on math, and I think it's really more of an assessment on fine motor skills rather than reading or math," said Abraham Lincoln Elementary Principal Mark Armendariz.
Armendariz said he made those remarks at a meeting with the new CPS chief, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, which was attended by hundreds of principals.
"When I said that, there was thunderous applause," he said.
Technical difficulties with administering the tests, which require an Internet connection, have turned students off.
Lincoln teacher Gregory Thompson said connection problems shut one of his students out of the test twice — after the student had made it halfway through the test.
"The kids, they lose a lot of patience with this," said Ashley Williams, a language arts teacher at Lincoln. "You used to bring the laptops in the room, and they were like 'Yeah! What are we going to do today?' And now they are like 'Blah.'"
Armendariz said students are thinking of laptops as more of a punishment than a resource because of the tests, which were given on paper before this year.
Some schools, such as Old Town’s magnet school LaSalle Language Academy, also administer the optional computer-based reading test.
John Falk, whose children are in first and third grades at LaSalle, said for the kindergarten class, students wore headphones, and the children would click on appropriate choices on the screen depending on what was heard through the headphones.
“If teachers are linked to this, we are doing the teachers and students a disservice,” Armendariz said. “If they are using mice rather than paper and pen or teacher recording.”
The tests at LaSalle ended up taking up 18 days to complete rather than the expected nine, according to Falk, who is on the school’s council.
Not all parents are against the computerized testing, however.
"It's not like when I was a kindergartner. We didn't have computers," said Kelly Ketchum, a parent of a fourth- and eighth-grader at Alcott Elementary School in Lincoln Park. "Go into any Starbucks and you will see a kid in the store on an iPad."
She said her children regularly play on their iPads at home, so to take the test electronically was more engaging for them.
Click here to view a sample NWEA test for kindergarteners through second-graders.