LAUSD caves to public outcry: No more timed testing for 4-year-olds

Los Angeles, CA - August 14: Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary School on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. First day of school TK (transitional kindergarten) student Melinda Rodriguez, right, is ready as her friend Mia Portillo is comforted by her Mother Daisy Salazar, left, as students assemble for the first day of school at Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary School on the first day of classes for LAUSD students. (Al Seib / For The Times)
Transitional kindergarten student Melina Rodriguez, right, is ready as her friend Mia Portillo is comforted by her mother Daisy Salazar, left, as students assemble for the first day of school at Lenicia B. Weemes Elementary School. (Al Seib / For The Times)

Following a public outcry from parents and teachers, the Los Angeles Unified School District has decided to make timed reading tests optional for most transitional kindergarten students.

The district had previously required all TK students, to take the Kindergarten Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS for short, a standardized screening test that evaluates a child’s reading fluency using a series of four one-minute tests. In one test, for instance, students are given one minute to name as many uppercase and lowercase letters listed on a page as they can. In another, they are asked to read sight words such as young, speak and known.

Read more: A guide to early learning

School officials said DIBELS would provide a quick and valuable way to inform the TK students’ future kindergarten teachers about their school readiness, and asked teachers to complete the testing by June 5. The DIBELS test is intended for kindergartners, however, and is not intended for preschool-aged children such as those in TK, according to one of the test's developers.

But in a course correction, the school district announced this week that the testing would instead be optional for students in TK, the state's new grade level for 4-year-olds.

"For the 2023-24 school year and with the revision of the California Preschool Learning Foundations coming this summer, administering the DIBELS for UTK Los Angeles Unified students will be optional," a Los Angeles Unified spokesperson said. UTK stands for universal transitional kindergarten. English language learners will still be required to take the DIBELS to assess their skills, at least for this year.

Read more: LAUSD parents and teachers in uproar over timed academic testing for 4-year-olds

The decision followed months of lobbying by district parents and TK teachers, who attended board meetings wearing matching yellow shirts that read, “We learn through play, DON’T TEST UTK.” Groups of concerned teachers also met repeatedly with the district's early childhood leadership.

The problem, they said, is that the test is not intended for preschool-age children and it tests for skills that do not align with the state’s expectations for what they will learn.

“This is huge for us," said Sayra Espinoza, a TK teacher at Overland Elementary School. “When we all join together, the district does listen a little bit more.”

Espinoza was asked to give DIBELS to her students toward the end of last year; she taught a class of children with earlier birthdays, and all had already turned 5 by then.

“It was pretty confusing for them, and it was frustrating for me,” she said of the test, which took about 15 minutes per child to administer. “A lot of them didn’t understand concepts of print, so following along from left to right confused them.”

Her students will still be regularly evaluated using a report created by the district, but it's based only on a teacher's observations, rather than a timed test. "It's really a huge win in terms of not having them over-tested, especially starting at such a young age," Espinoza said.

Read more: California public school enrollment drops again, but transitional kindergarten is up

She gave much of the credit for the district's course correction to parents, who showed up repeatedly at district meetings to press their case against the DIBELS test for their children in TK.

Lourdes Rojas, the mother of a 4-year-old in TK in Carson, said she spoke with Michael Romero, LAUSD’s chief of Transitional Programs, at a meeting last week. At the time, he said the DIBELS test would continue to be implemented in TK.

“We voiced our concerns again. We said can we make this optional. And I feel like that really made them think it through, and apparently they changed their minds," Rojas said.

A 4-year-old smiles while sitting in her mom's lap at Victoria Community Regional Park in Carson.
Maria Arriaga, 4, smiles while posing for a portrait alongside her mom, Lourdes Rojas, after school at Victoria Community Regional Park in Carson. (Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

Early this week, some LAUSD principals began informing TK teachers that the DIBELS test had been made optional. Late Wednesday evening, the district confirmed the change.

“I feel very encouraged, very excited. It feels like my voice matters," Rojas said. "We got together and fought for something positive that is going to affect our children.”

School board member Kelly Gonez said she had also been advocating for the district to take a more appropriate play-based approach to testing since she learned about the issue from a group of TK teachers in late March.

"I actually think that instead of trying to push academics downwards into TK and preschool, that we should go the other way" by bringing play-based approaches to the older primary grades as well, she said.

This article is part of The Times’ early childhood education initiative, focusing on the learning and development of California children from birth to age 5. For more information about the initiative and its philanthropic funders, go to

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.