In a few weeks I’m going to give my students a standardized test that includes a section of timed, random alphabet recognition. It is very, very important that you notice the word timed. The goal of the test is for the student to recognize as many letters as possible in one minute. The letters are arranged in a random pattern that looks like this:
L B A D R Q S
O C L X T V E
J A K M Q R T
I know you understand the term random, but I want you to understand the concept of rows, because rows are very confusing to kindergartners. In fact, unless I point to the first row, most of them will start on the bottom row, which is closest to their eyes.
Shortly after school starts I begin testing my students for basic skills and knowledge so I will know how to plan my lessons. This includes testing their knowledge of the alphabet. Then I will begin using a series of forms that builds up their recognition skills. The first form looks something like this:
A B C A B A C A B
C A B A C A A B C
Then the next one adds the D and E, and so on until the last form has the whole alphabet in random order. This is the one I use for initial testing just to see what my children know.
Okay, now that you have this background knowledge, let me tell you what happened this week when I tested!
First, I have the three or four students with the “dripping syrup Southern accent syndrome”. This happens every year and I’m prepared for it. When I test this child, his or her responses sound like this:
Aaaaaaaaaaaay, Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, Ceeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
A child with a dripping syrup accent can extend the value of any letter and add at least two extra syllables to any given word. LOL It takes weeks to build up any speed with these children and a timed test will NEVER represent their true knowledge and skills level. I just rely on my own understanding of their culture.
Then I had a couple of children who were determined to convince me that the alphabet has only one order and I definitely wasn’t following it! After any A they fell into the “ABC” pattern, no matter what the next letter was, and I had to get them back on track. Keep in mind that I can’t do that on our official testing and they will most likely fail this first test.
I have one “uh” child. Her responses were: B uh F uh A uh C uh… you get the picture. Getting her to drop that “uh” and get to the next letter will take some training!
I have two or three who simply stop dead in their tracks at the first letter they don’t recognize. I have to get them to skip that one and go on to the next, which is totally beyond their comprehension level at this point in their learning. I can just hear their little minds, “What do you mean skip it? How can I skip it when I don’t know it and you’re asking me what it is, and I’m trying to think of it?” Unfortunately I know from giving the test for the last eight years, that the first letter of the test will be what stops most of these children. One of the “quirks” of the test is that it is printed in Times Roman which has this “g”. That is not the “g” students are used to seeing in D’Nealian handwriting. Even though it is the same “g” used in our phonics program and printed on their papers, most students remember and associate the letter they write.
I have a couple of children who cannot recognize more than a few letters out of the context of their natural order. They can spot A, O, X, L, Z, T, and the letters of their name. Although their parents believe they “know the alphabet” because they can sing that cute song, and even point to and say the letters in order, they do not truly recognize individual letters. It’s like learning a song in a foreign language. Our minds and voices can mimic the sounds and sequence without actually understanding the words.
Last, but not least, I tested a child who had a story for each letter of the alphabet. I kid you not; this is the way our test time went:
V- I don’t know that letter. We didn’t learn it in prek.
C- There’s one of those in my brother’s name.
“Do you know what it is?”
X- Hey, that’s in my name! That’s x.
Q- Oh, that’s a hard one. I don’t think I know that one.
T- Yeah, that’s t like turtle.
Y-(pauses and looks up at our alphabet board and starts whispering, a,b,c,…)
No, we don’t have time to do that. Do you know the letter?
No, it’s one of those hard ones too.
I let her go on for about ten letters just to hear the stories! I hope that by spring testing we have made much better progress.
I have also noticed that I have more children this year than ever before who say “lmnop” and have no concept that those are individual letters. Sometimes I truly hate that alphabet song!!
So now you have an inkling of some of the challenges of “testing” kindergartners. It certainly isn’t an exact science, and frankly I think it is a waste of time until spring. But there are four levels of administration above me who say otherwise, so I’ll be testing along with everyone else.