Data is Not Destiny! Confessions of a Totally “Purplicious” Former Kindergartner and Why Our Obsession with Data is Dangerous

Way back when — when kindergarten was not considered part of the K-12 curriculum — I attended the Sunshine Kindergarten in St. Petersburg, Florida.  It was a happy time for me.  I was able to paint, color, play, and sing five days a week with my new friends under the leadership of a kind soul, Mrs. Hardin.  I was a little younger than my kindergarten classmates.  My December birth date meant that I was four years old for half the year while others were starting to lose their first teeth and turning six (I was so envious).  My favorite time of the day was when we all lined up in a row and sang the ABC song.  As a beginning student of the letters, I claimed my favorite letter and song out loud and true when we finally arrived at that beautifully lyrical letter — elemenopy!  What a lovely sounding letter.  Never mind that I didn’t yet know how to write the letters or sound out words yet.  I was a star when I sang the ABC song.  I was totally “purplicious” (thank you to Victoria and Elizabeth Kann for the delightful book), full of imagination and promise.  (

My reminiscing about my kindergarten days got me to wondering.  How would I have fared in the kindergarten classroom of today?  Probably not so well.  As an NBPTS certified early childhood educator, former elementary school teacher, and current professor of literacy education, I have administered literally thousands of reading assessments to young children.  I know the importance of assessing literacy development, progress monitoring, and using data to differentiate instruction.  I’ve used DIBELS assessments to determine which students are considered “at risk” for reading failure according to national norms.  A couple of weeks ago I had a sobering moment when I realized that I would have been one of those children considered at risk for reading failure.  Holy Cow!

Let me be clear.  My mom read to me and my brother almost every single day.  I could retell almost every story with complete accuracy and even do a dramatic performance based on my favorite characters.  I was content to be both the audience to read alouds and the performer of the stories.  I just was a little slow in the alphabetic principle department.  Nonetheless, I did just fine when I went to first grade and learned the importance of reading the words in my “Dick and Jane” books.

I am so very glad that I went to school in the era prior to the data craze we now have.  I dread to think that a longitudinal data bank would include any assessment results from my kindergarten days.  With all our talk of teaching grittiness to young children, I doubt if there will ever be an assessment of purpliciousness.

You see, data is not destiny.  Once you label a young child as “at risk” you run the risk of killing purpliciousness.