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Kindergarten standards: too much, too soon?

Editorís note: This is the fifth article in a series about education issues, locally and nationally.In 2008, the state of Colorado passed Senate Bill 08-212 ó Coloradoís Achievement Plan for Kids ó which set a goal for effectively transitioning students from preschool through high school and beyond. According to the Colorado Department of Educationís website, CAP4K includes two components: development of individual school readiness plans and development of school readiness assessments.In August 2010, Colorado adopted the Common Core State Standards, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiativeís website. The CCSS, launched in 2009, is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy. It defines the knowledge students should have acquired by the end of each grade.Melissa Colsman, CDE executive director of teaching and learning, said that, prior to SB 08-212, it was difficult to discern if a student had met the requirements for each grade. Teachers were told what students needed to know by the fourth grade but not what they needed to know by first, second or third grade, she said.CAP4K requires that all children in publicly funded preschool or kindergarten receive an individual school readiness plan, according to the CDEís website. The plan is based on school readiness assessments, the first of which must be administered in kindergarten, the website states. The assessments describe the status and measure the ongoing progress a child makes. Some of those assessments measure academic areas governed by the CCSS.Colsman said that CAP4K will help teachers identify and address problems early on.According to the CDE website, school readiness plans are meant to be a ìliving document,î which outlines the progress each child makes across the developmental and academic domains.The CDE advised districts to phase-in school readiness plans in either the 2013-2014 or 2014-2015 school year, along with the implementation of school readiness assessments. However, Sharon Triolo-Moloney, CDE director of early learning and school readiness, said that the 2015-2016 will be the first full year that the assessments are in place for the entire state.The assessments can identify problems early, Coleman said. They could show that a studentís development is on a different pace and that student needs additional support, such as tutoring, to get them ready for the next step, she said.ìThe whole idea behind school readiness is making sure that students are ready for success in school,î Triolo-Moloney said. ìThe assessments are not meant to be the gatekeeper about whether or not they can move on to the next grade.îIn the past, there has not been much focus on how to educate students in their kindergarten year, Triolo-Moloney said. Now, there is a greater recognition of the importance of early childhood education, she said. The experience that students get in their kindergarten year should include learning through unstructured activities, like playing, but should still have a rigorous academic aspect to it, she said.According to the mathematical standards on the CCSS website, kindergarten students should be able to make sense of mathematical problems and persevere in solving them, reason abstractly and quantitatively; and look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning, among other things. The kindergarten English language arts standards state that students should be able to use a combination of drawing, dictating and writing to compose opinion pieces to tell the reader the topic or name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion about the topic or book.According to an article posted on The Washington Postís website Jan. 29, 2013, there is no convincing research showing that mastering certain skills or bits of knowledge, like counting to 100 or being able to read a certain number of words, while in kindergarten correlates to later success in school.The Alliance for Childhood issued a statement March 2, 2010, in response to the development of the CCSS. It states that the standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn and the best ways to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.Can tests accurately set standards for 5-year-olds?Kevin Vick, president of the Colorado Springs Education Association, said that trying to create standardized assessments at the kindergarten level is problematic because that is the grade level when there is the most disparity in age among students. ìThere is a tremendous amount of work on the teacher to dissect each individual studentís behavior,î he said.Vick said that requiring additional assessments, when 30 percent of the school year is already spent on administering and preparing for standardized tests, will present a logistical problem as well. ìMost tests are being done on computers,î he said. ìAbout two-thirds of the elementary school computer labs in D 11 are shut down now for testing. And not just for testing but for makeup tests as well. Basically, it shuts down the entire media center.îThe tests at the kindergarten level are comprehensive by addressing motor skills and social behavior in addition to academic progress, Vick said. However, because they are based on the standard, the tests assume that every student enters kindergarten at a certain minimum level; and, if they donít meet that level, there are all kinds of interventions, he said. ìIn reality, it could be that you are assessing a 4-year-old rather than an almost 6-year-old. Weíre trying to rush the developmental process and thatís difficult because kids can get frustrated and turned off of learning before they even get started. In kindergarten, the No. 1 goal should be to instill in kids that learning is fun and that school is fun.îAccording to an article posted on the Defending the Early Years website Feb. 17, many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten. The CCSS requirements can lead to inappropriate classroom practices, the article states.ìTeachers may either have to create redundancy in their teaching to make sure they are completing the components of their assessment within the timeline demanded or they pull things out of order within their curriculum to make sure they get it covered,î Vick said.Vick said that in a standardized education system like the CCSS, the standards become the endpoints, rather than a checkpoint. ìYou are not going to challenge the kids who have already met the standards, and you are going to frustrate the kids who havenít met them yet,î he said.ìThere is a belief out there that you can measure college and career readiness; that somehow this number that we are generating on this standardized test translates into being college or career ready. There are so many other elements that are measurable and observable, which is the job of the professional in the classroom. If we just let the teachers do their jobs, we would have a lot more time for learning.î

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