In most public schools, serious standardized testing begins in third grade. Now, the New York City Department of Education has unveiled a plan that would expand that to kids in kindergarten, first and second grade.

NPR's Margot Adler has the story.

MARGOT ADLER: The New York City Department of Education, which e-mailed elementary school principals last week, said many - more than 65 - have already expressed interest in the new tests. Jim Liebman, the chief accountability officer at the Department of Education, says city schools have already been doing literacy assessments in the early years.

Mr. JIM LIEBMAN (Chief Accountability Officer, New York City Department of Education): So, we're adding four new tools in literacy and five new tools in math.

ADLER: There are different choices for schools. Multiple choice test, face-to-face sessions with the teacher, and there's even one assessment that's like a video game. There are school districts that have used these kinds of early assessments, but New York City will try this on about 12,000 students, a much larger scale.

Some parents already up in arms at the expanded rule of standardized test in schools say kindergarten is too early.

Mr. MARK WEPRIN (Assembly Member, Queens, New York): What they've started to do is to turn our schools into Stanley Kaplan test prep factories.

ADLER: Mark Weprin is a Democratic assemblyman from Queens and a parent of children in both elementary school and middle school. He's worried that five to seven-year-olds will spend too much time doing test prep.

Mr. WEPRIN: I have no problem with tests when they're evaluating the students. I took standardized tests. But I remember the test prep we did. The teacher would come in and say, tomorrow, bring two number two pencils.

ADLER: Weprin says when tests are used to evaluate teachers and principals, he says teachers stop teaching. And he's watched schools lose music, art, athletics, trips, all because teaching to the test is taking so much time.

Liebman of the New York City Department of Education says that's not what's going on here. They have always done assessments of kindergartners, they will now do better assessments. He says it's like taking your temperature.

Mr. LIEBMAN: The difference between what we've done for years and what we're proposing to do now is simply, we want to change that thermometer that says you have a temperature or you don't to a thermometer that says your temperature is 100 degrees versus 104 degrees.

ADLER: The program will be evaluated after a year. New York City, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has made standardized testing a centerpiece going well beyond No Child Left Behind.

A principal can be fired or given a bonus. A plan for tying test scores to tenure had been blocked in the state legislature. Liebman insisted these tests will not be used to grade or track or judge teachers or schools. But some teachers and parents say the minute you put a number next to a kid, the door is opened.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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