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Report says 1/3 of children not ready for kindergarten

July 12, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - When children enroll in kindergarten, they should understand about 13,000 words, use up to eight words in a sentence, know basic colors and have a good attention span.

Most Washington County Public Schools students enter school with these basic skills and more, local school officials said.

But a state report released recently shows that 35 percent of the 1,548 students who started kindergarten in Washington County Public Schools last year did not meet readiness standards.

"It's not a reflection of what teachers are doing," said Steven Wernick, supervisor for elementary social studies, language arts and early learning for the county school system. "It's a reflection of what (students) know before they entered school."

School readiness is a term used by educators to describe the existing ability of a student entering kindergarten in social and personal development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts and physical development.

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Vickie Kane, a kindergarten teacher at Salem Avenue Elementary School, said she is constantly observing students for both academic and social abilities.

"You hope that they can read, but do they even know about a book?" she said. "They need to be able to interact, to be social."

Students receive a score of full readiness (proficient), approaching readiness (in process) or developing readiness (needs development). Teachers collect and document students' learning through daily interaction during the first few months of school. This data is collected from all Maryland counties and is reported to the Maryland State Department of Education.

Dan Lindner, who taught kindergarten at Conococheague Elementary School for three years, said the data is used to help children of all abilities improve throughout the school year and to measure that progress.

Kane said helping students improve can mean individual or small-group instruction and interventions.

"Your hope is that by the end of kindergarten they have all shown progress," she said.

At the start of the 2005-06 school year, 58 percent of the 1,609 kindergartners enrolled countywide were ready to learn, according to the Maryland Model for School Readiness Assessment. That is seven percentage points lower than the 2006-07 school year, when 65 percent were considered proficient, but two percentage points lower than the statewide average, according to the report.

"This tells me we have some challenges right from the beginning," Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said during a public meeting last month.

Washington County kindergartners were better prepared before beginning school during the most recent school year and improved in all testing areas.

Students were most proficient in physical development (78 percent) and least proficient in scientific thinking (38 percent), according to the report. Other areas of testing included language/literacy (55 percent), mathematical thinking (58 percent), social studies (48 percent), the arts (72 percent) and social development (64 percent).

Most of these numbers were slightly below or on par with readiness statewide for data collected during the same school year. Washington County kindergartners were more proficient before school than students statewide in only one area: the arts.

Wernick said there are many areas, based on this data, that teachers need to focus on in order to bring students to the level they need to be by the time they leave kindergarten. These include core subjects, like language, math and science.

But Wernick said he also would like to close the gender gap that exists for Washington County kindergartners. Females are 13 percent more proficient than males when they enter kindergarten, Wernick said.

He also would like to see increases in readiness of Hispanic (46 percent) and black (57 percent) students.

A student will be more prepared to learn in kindergarten and come with basic skills if there has been some foundation at home, or if the child has been involved in some prior care before enrolling in school, he said. These can include child-care centers, pre-kindergarten or a nonpublic nursery.

Kindergartners tested at the start of the 2006-07 school year were most proficient when they had first gone to a private nursery (80 percent) and least proficient when they had been a part of Head Start program (53 percent), which is a federally funded program geared to help low-income 3- and 4-year-olds prepare for kindergarten.

Data also was collected from students coming from child-care centers (71 percent proficient), family care (66 percent), home/infant care (67 percent) and Washington County Public Schools pre-kindergarten (69 percent), according to the report.




What does school readiness mean?



School readiness is a term used by educators to describe the existing ability of a student entering kindergarten in social and personal development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts and physical development. Students receive a score of full readiness (proficient), approaching readiness (in process) or developing readiness (needs development). Teachers collect and document students' learning through daily interaction during the first few months of school. This data is collected from all Maryland counties and is reported to the Maryland State Department of Education.

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