Local kids not ready for kindergarten, study says

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Local numbers close to state averages

By Calen McKinney



The majority of Taylor County children aren't ready for kindergarten.

School officials say they believe there will be an increase in those who are ready for school, however, now that the first results of a new kindergarten readiness screener have been released.

The Governor's Office of Early Childhood released early childhood data profiles for each of Kentucky's counties last week.

According to a news release, the data profiles include results from a kindergarten screener used in every school district last fall.

Taylor County's results show that 51.4 percent of kindergarteners who took the screener last fall were deemed "not ready" for their classes. The remaining 48.6 percent were labeled "ready" to begin kindergarten.

At the state level, 51 percent were deemed "not ready," with 49 percent being "ready" for class.

The report states that there are 281 kindergarten students in Taylor County.

Kindergarten readiness screener scores measure school readiness in five areas, which include cognitive/general knowledge, language and communication, physical wellbeing, social-emotional and self-help.

Taylor County's students scored higher than the state averages in all categories, with the exception of cognitive/general knowledge.

The report also includes demographic information for Taylor County. That data is printed in a sidebar to this story. See the complete kindergarten readiness report with this story online at www.cknj.com.

Susan Kilby, assistant superintendent at Taylor County Schools, said her district had a kindergarten camp in August to administer the new kindergarten screening.

Since this year's results are the first for the screener, Kilby said, they will be used as a baseline score to compare next year's results.

"Trend data for three years will give a better overall picture," she said.

Kilby said she expects to see the scores of those deemed "ready" for kindergarten increase as the District works with Race to the Top grant money it received to focus on preschool teaching methods. And local early childhood providers will have access to a previous version of another screener to help guide their activities and learning.

Kilby said she believes the new screener is a good tool to test the five areas children need to be productive residents. Teachers have access to their students' results online, which Kilby said tells them which skills they need to work on.

"This profile helps teachers be efficient with classroom time, since he/she knows what the students know and don't know," Kilby said. "For example, there is no need to work on learning colors if all the children already know their colors."

Taylor County Elementary School Principal Donna Williams said she believes the new screening tool provides helpful information about which areas the students are ready and which ones they might be lacking.

"This helps us see a specific need with each child," she said. "While only 48.6 percent of children were deemed ready for kindergarten, this number should increase as more and more parents and day care facilities are made aware of the expectations for students entering kindergarten. These expectations have changed drastically over the last few years. Children are expected to come to kindergarten knowing more than they ever have."

Campbellsville Elementary School Principal Ricky Hunt said the screener also helps schools see how they measure up to other schools in the state.

"We like the screener in that it gave us a starting point or achievement level for each student," he said. "The screener took an average of 20 minutes per student. It allowed the teachers to sit one on one with each of their students. As we all know, building relationships is a big part of student success."

Hunt said his school's officials were a bit surprised to see that more students weren't ready for kindergarten than were.

"Then, seeing that the state showed the same numbers gave us a little relief, but those numbers are still not acceptable. We are currently planning some activities for later on in this school and summer to make the community aware of what kindergarten readiness means. For a student to be kindergarten ready, it goes beyond just knowing the alphabet, how to count and the colors."

Hunt said his teachers place a large emphasis on their students being able to communicate, so they are taught language and communication skills.

"We do this so they can communicate with family and express their needs. And as for the other domains, we want our children to be healthy, develop those self-help skills and have a strong physical base," he said.

While no assessment is perfect, Hunt said his school's staff members believe the new kindergarten screener is a good one to measure kindergarten readiness.

" ... But to us it is much more than that," he said. "It is a way for teachers to start building relationships with the new students coming to the school, some for the first time in a structured setting. Also, teachers learn the individual levels of each student in their classroom. There is no better way to start a school year than knowing that information."

By the Numbers

• Children living below 100 percent poverty - 42.8 percent

• Children living below 150 percent poverty - 55.7 percent

• Children living below 200 percent poverty - 64.5 percent

• Births to mothers who aren't high school graduates - 16 percent

• Babies born weighing less than 5.5 pounds - 11 percent

• Preterm babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy - 9 percent

• Children receiving Medicaid insurance - 2,530

• Children receiving KCHIP health insurance - 517

• Families served by the First Steps program - 23

• Families served by the HANDS program - 38

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