Schools to test for kindergarten readiness

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By Calen McKinney

Public school systems will soon have another tool in their arsenal to determine whether kindergarten students are ready for school.

According to a news release from Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, public school systems will be required to implement a kindergarten screening next school year to test whether students are ready.

Local preschool and head start officials say they currently test students to determine whether they are ready for kindergarten, and they believe students perform well.

Students at several school districts in Kentucky took a pilot version of the screener this school year, according to the release, and results were revealed last week.

Neither Campbellsville nor Taylor County schools participated in the pilot study, but will be required to implement the screener next school year.

The screener tests whether students know their name, letters, colors and numbers and tests for communication skills, physical well-being and cognitive and general knowledge.

According to a news release from the state’s Department of Education, the majority of students surveyed in the pilot screening didn’t test ready for kindergarten.

Students fell into one of three categories, the release states, which include ready with supports, ready or ready with enrichments.

Nearly 72 percent were deemed ready with supports, 9.3 percent were ready with enrichments and the remaining 18.9 percent were deemed ready.

“These results clearly show many of our students are starting school at a disadvantage, often without the basic foundation on which to build academically,” Education Commissioner Terry Holliday stated in the release.

“It is critical that young children are exposed to high-quality learning environments and developmentally appropriate experiences at home and in early childhood education settings to promote success in kindergarten and throughout their school experience.”

Parents of the students who participated in the pilot study also completed a social-emotional/self-help questionnaire, the release states, that asks about personal qualities, such as whether a child uses eating utensils, brushes his or her teeth or can use the bathroom independently. On that part of the study, the majority of students scored at or above the average.

The Common Kindergarten Entry Screener, which will be implemented this fall, will provide districts a way to measure students’ readiness for school in five areas, including adaptive, cognitive, motor, communication and social-emotional.

Students will be screened no more than 15 calendar days before the opening of school and no later than the 30th instructional day of school. The data will be immediately available.

Public preschool and head start programs are available to those who qualify to help ready students for kindergarten. Parents aren’t required to send their children to preschool or head start, however.

If a child attends Campbellsville or Taylor preschool or head start, they typically attend in the district in which they live, though that isn’t always the case. Campbellsville and Taylor County school systems operate preschools and head start programs. Lake Cumberland Head Start services the head start programs.

The public head start programs receive federal funding. The public preschool programs receive state funding.

Those four public preschool and head start programs are for 3- and 4-year olds, based on income and other guidelines. There are also many private daycares, preschools and head start centers in Taylor County.

Susan Kilby, supervisor of instruction at Taylor County Schools, said Taylor County’s preschool does an excellent job of preparing students for kindergarten. She said a recent review showed that the program received six out of a possible seven on an evaluation.

“Students leave the program with skills to help them be successful in kindergarten,” she said.

Kilby said all Taylor County preschool teachers have Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education certification, and classroom activities are planned using guidance from Office of Early Childhood standards.

Preschool classrooms are located inside Taylor County Elementary School, which she says allows children to become familiar with the school environment.

Across town at Campbellsville Preschool, Joni Davis, director of special education and preschool coordinator, says there are 10 students to each adult worker, so individual attention is possible.

She said she believes the preschool ensures students are ready for kindergarten.

“Absolutely, depending on when they entered preschool, the experiences they receive prepare them for kindergarten,” she said.

“Those experiences include pre-academic skills for reading and math, socialization, following instructions, sharing, taking turns as well as being familiar with the elementary gym, cafeteria, library and activities.”

Alicia Miller, a teacher at Campbellsville Head Start, says teachers there do three screenings to test for kindergarten readiness, at the beginning, middle and end of the school year. Individualized plans are developed based on results.

“That shows the progress throughout the year,” she said.

At Taylor County Head Start, teacher Bonnie Webster says students learn through play.

Students focus on personal and social skills, cognitive development and much more. She said students also complete three screenings there to test for their readiness to enter kindergarten.

“The kids, they do have to be ready,” she said.

And if the tests show they aren’t, she said, “It’s kinda like, OK, you’re already behind.”
Kilby says her district staff members will be glad to have data the kindergarten screener will provide.

“The data from the screener will give teachers guidance as they plan activities and differentiate instruction based on individual student needs,” she said.

A team of Taylor County’s teachers will be trained this spring to administer the screener, she said. Campbellsville teachers will also undergo training soon.

Kent Settle, instructional supervisor at Campbellsville Schools, says he believes the screener will give teachers an idea of where students are academically as well as socially.

To help prepare for kindergarten, Kilby says she recommends students attend preschool or head start.

“Both programs focus on literacy and numeracy activities, as well as developmentally appropriate activities in social, communication and gross/fine motor skills,” she said.

Sue Crabtree, co-chair of the Green/Taylor Community Early Childhood Council, agrees.

“It’s good for them to go, especially if they’ve not been in any formal child care. It helps with transitioning to kindergarten.”

But for those who aren’t eligible for preschool or head start, or don’t want their children to attend, there are ways to help prepare them for kindergarten at home.

Crabtree says she believes the best way is by reading with a child.

“Start when they’re really small,” she said.

Crabtree also suggests talking and responding to children, listening to music and showing them art, allowing them to feed themselves and allowing them to grasp objects.

“Talk to you child. That’s really important,” she said.

Crabtree says she, too, believes the kindergarten screener will be beneficial.

“When they see where there’s gaps, then these are the areas they work on,” she said. “I think this will help.

“School is harder than it used to be. And we have to keep up.”

A phone call to Leona Armstrong, who is in charge of overseeing home education for the public head starts in Taylor County, was not returned before press time.