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Do 5-Year-Olds Really Need Career Testing?

The makers of the ACT are developing a tool that will test K-12 students and determine their career interests and academic performance.

Forget about kindergarteners having the freedom to learn through play and dream about being a firefighter one day and a ballerina the next. The folks at ACT, Inc.—yes the same ACT test that high school students take while applying to college— are pouring millions into developing a tool that will test kids as young as 5-years-old and determine their career interests and academic performance.

Although career testing kindergarteners sounds like the kind of thing you read about in The Onion, Jon Whitmore, ACT's chief executive officer, says that doing so will enable them to offer teachers, students and their families "an integrated, multidimensional approach to college and career readiness that focuses on measuring achievements and behavior relative to goals." The results "will providing critical information to guide students along their journeys toward success in school and their future work lives."

Since the tool is still being developed, how exactly that will happen remains to be seen. But it's not hard to picture how the results could be seriously misused. At the start of the school year some teachers never read their new student's cumulative files—the information with the previous year's grades, test scores, and comments from previous teachers—because they want to be able to see their students with fresh eyes. It's far too easy to look at grades and test scores and label kids as either good or bad in a particular subject. The ACT's tool is simply an even more sophisticated way to label students.

Imagine, for example, a 5-year-old girl who's gotten the message that math and science are for boys so she doesn't test well on that portion of the career test. With the right instruction and encouragement she could end up being a perfectly fine engineer or mathematician. But if her score report causes her teachers and parents to steer her towards being a teacher, the results will do her a disservice. Besides, career tests don't always produce relevant results. I took one in high school and it suggested that I should be a forest ranger.

The cost to school districts to use this test also hasn't been announced, but just think how much money they'll be forking over to the company if students take the test every year between kindergarten and high school. Indeed, if the ACT manages to get districts to buy into this tool, it will be a cash cow.

It would be refreshing if districts refused to get on board with this idea and instead chose to spend their resources on giving students experiential project-based and service-learning experiences. That way kids could naturally figure out what they like doing and gain skills in a wide variety of disciplines, without the pressure of being told that they should (or shouldn't) consider a particular career.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user US Army Africa

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