To do this requires collecting a good deal of comparable data, which means that students now
take too many high-stakes tests. Even if the tests were excellent—actually they have been
widely criticized (Chicago Teachers Union, 2014; Greene, 2015)—they do not help teachers
individualize better and teach more effectively because the school year is nearly over by the
time teachers see the results. The tests are generally given in April and May and the results
are not available for several weeks after that (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, no
date). The tests are high stakes because the results are used to make important decisions about
funding, setting district boundaries, opening and closing schools, and hiring and firing teach-
ers, principals, and administrators. However, the main impact is that it increases everyone’s
anxiety and stress because of the pressure for good test scores. These are not the conditions
that optimize children’s learning and development.

Early Learning and Development Standards (ELDS)
Yet another contributor to the quantification of early childhood education is the Early Learn-
ing and Development Standards (ELDS). Every state has developed its own set of ELDS that
describe what four-year-olds should know and be able to do. (Many ELDS include standards
for younger children as well.) The ELDS in a number of states include standards that are prob-
lematic because they were developed to align with K–12 standards, making them too heavily
focused on a narrow set of superficial skills. While a set of standards can be helpful by commu-
nicating a shared belief of what is important for children’s optimal development, they can also
be harmful if they are too specific and prescriptive. Nonetheless, all standards are problematic
by their nature because they create expectations for performing, put teachers in an evalua­
tion mind-set, and have biases. Their biases are reflected most strongly by what is included
and what is left out. To make my point, it’s not all that difficult to develop standards that will
favor urban children over rural children and vice versa, or favor bilingual children over mono-
lingual children and vice versa. Standards are particularly troubling when applied to young
children. Early development is characterized by its unevenness and by large differences among
children in their rates and patterns of development. The main impact of the ELDS is similar
to that of the CCSS tests: too much stress and pressure caused by too much assessing that too
often leads to shortsighted educational decisions and ineffective, if not harmful, teaching and
learning practices.

The Score: Superficial Skills = 1; Exploration, Understanding, Play = 0
Among these stress-induced negative decisions and practices are inappropriate curriculum
content and methods pushed down to younger and younger children. The kindergarten cur-
riculum is what the first-grade curriculum was twenty years ago, although children’s develop-
mental milestones have not changed in the last one hundred years (Gesell Institute of Child
Development 2012). And now, early childhood programs are expected to prepare children for
the rigors of kindergarten! This downward pressure is transmitted to early childhood teach-
ers and administrators from parents, community leaders, K–12 educators, politicians, and so
on who want the children who are growing up with challenges—including poverty, family
language that is not English, and few intellectually enriching experiences—to be “ready for
school” and the children who are growing up with ample resources to be ready to be “top
[test] performers.” They want every child to be well prepared for the intense pressure they
will face at school—a humane reason, at least, but the wrong strategy—and because students’
performance has high-stakes consequences for schools. All this pressure too often results in
10 • Introduction