Thursday, 20 October 2016

Pre-assessment for Alphabetical Awareness in Kindergarten

Pre-assessment for Alphabetical Awareness in Kindergarten

Assessing the skills of your student from the beginning of your mutual relationship is one of the best ways to judge their level and prepare appropriate learning materials that cater to their growing abilities. In kindergarten, a single year can mean a world of difference in terms of mathematical awareness, language awareness, and other knowledge. This applies to ELL students even more than regular learners, since they will enter kindergarten speaking their home language rather than the classroom language.

Click the link below to access a set of flashcards I've created for ELL students. This learning app is excellent for new language learners because it uses audio-visual aids to present relevant and recognizable information effectively.

Pre-assessment Flashcards

Shapes, Objects, Animals


There are two assessments. The first assessment checks whether students can recognize and name basic English words. They may have seen and heard these words on TV, or at their Japanese kindergarten. It gives me an idea of their awareness. Advanced learners can go a step further and say what letter each word starts with, or even spell the word.

The second assessment is of the English alphabet. The goal is for the student to say the letter aloud, and if possible draw the corresponding lowercase on a sheet of paper provided at the time of testing. The test can be done in reverse for advanced learners.

Based on this pre-assessment, I sort the students into three groups:
1) Students with high awareness of the subject matter (more than expected)
2) Students with moderate awareness of the subject matter (appropriate to the assessment)
3) Students with low awareness of the subject matter (little to no experience)

Students are then divided into specialized groups for differentiated learning. Click the link below to view a mind map that shows the routes taken for each group in regards to separate classroom instances of differentiated education.

Mind Map

It is through pre-assessments and differentiated experiences like this that students' talents can be fostered without overwhelming them with difficult materials or boring them with activities below their skill levels. The particulars of each student will vary depending on countless variables, but managing them to at least a basic degree will make a world of difference when engaging them and challenging them to learn.


Friday, 14 October 2016

High Stakes Assessments in Early Childhood Education and Japanese Culture

High Stakes Assessments in Early Childhood Education and Japanese Culture
By Nick Martin

Kindergarten and early childhood education are all about providing emerging students with the tools to tackle structured educational systems, starting with first grade. Emphasis is placed on introducing children to the building blocks of what they will learn next year, and identifying problem areas that may cause future concern. However, high-stakes assessments are difficult to implement so early in the process. At the ages of 3-6, children are lacking any sort of foundation that can be critically assessed, and so most assessments end up being formative or geared toward preparing for future learning, rather than judging the culmination of a student’s experiences. However, once my students graduate from kindergarten and enter primary school, they will begin studying for the purpose of testing.

Teachers in Japan, at all grade levels, must meet stringent requirements to be formally certified in the education system. This involves holding a degree in higher education, passing the National Entrance Examination, training, clinical studies, and practicums. Teachers must retest between one and ten years (depending on subject and grade level) to maintain their certifications. While teachers are expected to teach material relevant to testing, “even if an individual student fails a course, they may pass with their class regardless of grades on tests. The grades on tests have no effect on schooling until taking entrance exams to get into high school.”

In terms of professional accountability, teachers are subject to the evaluation of their peers and their superiors. Japan has a strong group culture, and contributing to the overall welfare of a group or organization is seen as paramount. An example of accountability is ‘lesson study,’ where new and seasoned teachers “take turns presenting lessons that are practiced and critiqued in a group setting.” This system reinforces accountability in schools and the promotion of effective teaching strategies. In addition, this accountability is strengthened “through high levels of parental support and pressure for education, coupled with strong ministries of education and high professionalism among teachers.” My Japanese colleague tells me that this high professionalism manifests itself in the difficulty in securing a teaching certificate and the high rate of failure National Entrance Examination. On average, only 20% of applicants succeed.

Middle school/junior high school students (grades 7-9, called 1-3 in Japan) end up taking placement tests their final year to determine what high schools they can attend. In Japan, high school is “not compulsory and therefore requires the passing of an admission exam to enter.” Some students will forgo secondary education to enter a family trade, or apply to a technical school instead. Many students will end up studying or hiring a private tutor, called juku, to prepare for these tests to ensure they can enter the best schools. As a former teacher at a Japanese junior high school, I can attest that emphasis is put on ‘rote learning’ so students are able to pass tests for entrance into high school.

In the realm of secondary education, the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT) administers testing on an annual basis, with different levels for each grade: There are 5 periodical tests in a year (the midterm and the finals). There are some subjects which only require 1 test per term, some 2, others give no test at all, and some would base the student’s grade on daily classroom performance alone. To graduate, there are a fixed number of necessary subjects. Passing these subjects earns you units. Getting the necessary number of units enables you to graduate. In most high schools, after studying for one year, if a certain score (marks) is obtained in tests, etc it is considered that the required units for that subject have been achieved.

Finally, here are the requirements for a school in Oregon, my home state, and a school in Japan. There are nine state and local assessments from the Oregon Department of Education, administered at three levels between kindergarten and high school, grades 3, 8, and 11. In Japan, there is nothing like PSAT or SAT, and while students are tested in their classrooms by their own teachers on what they have learned, nationwide assessment has only become popular again in the last 10 years. The tests administered by MEXT are given twice in a student’s career: when they are in the sixth grade of elementary school and when they are third-year junior high school students. While it seems that Oregon has higher stakes for its testing and assessment procedures, Japan’s willingness to innovate in the area of education shows it also aims for the same goal, a competent metric by which to judge its students.

Ultimately, in Japan high-stakes testing is a process still under reform. While the current pool of teachers is considered to be highly skilled, well-paid, and educated, their effectiveness over years and generations is still not measurable in a meaningful way. While it is true that students are assessed, emphasis is placed on later years and entrance exams. As current trends shift MEXT from these assessments to all-encompassing educational assessments, information on effective testing procedures and results will become clearer. Let’s wait for that day to arrive.

APA Citations

The Japanese School System/What is High School like? (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from

High school, university and graduate school | Tokyo International Communication Committee. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from

NCEE » Japan: Teacher and Principal Quality. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from

Williams, J. H., & Engel, L. C. (2012). How do other Countries Evaluate Teachers? Phi Delta Kappan, 94(4), 53-57. doi:10.1177/003172171209400414

ASSESSMENT - Student Testing in Oregon. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2016, from

A. (2008). Achievement tests in public schools: When, why & what for. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from