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Message from Madison County Superintendent Tommy Floyd: Madison County Schools has placed an emphasis on early childhood education and kindergarten readiness. The following article, written by Kentucky Board of Education member Brigitte Blom Ramsey, discusses the importance of screening children as they enter kindergarten and the difference those screenings can make on a child’s academic success. This is an opinion I share as an advocate for early childhood education.
Brigette Blom Ramsey:
For years, schools in Kentucky have recognized the value of screening children around the time they enter kindergarten. A quick screen of children’s developmental abilities, comfort level with the structure of the school setting and the materials they will soon encounter provides rich information for kindergarten teachers to meet each child “where they are” when they arrive and help them master the kindergarten content to establish a foundation for continued success in elementary school.
School districts like Madison County Schools have led the way by doing their own screenings of youngsters at the onset of kindergarten. And, the district has successfully brought together public and private early childhood providers to ensure optimal development for young children before they ever enter the schoolhouse door.
Kentucky is taking steps to implement one common kindergarten readiness screener accompanied by best-practice guidelines for all schools. This is a collaborative effort between the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and the Kentucky Department of Education and is directly tied to the recommendations of the Governor’s Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education and the Transforming Education in Kentucky Task Force. School districts were represented on the screener selection review team. Teachers also have had direct involvement in the process as members of the Early Childhood Development task force.
The screener’s value is twofold. As school districts have found, the screening provides valuable information to schools and families to help them serve each child appropriately, so that they can reach reading proficiency in elementary school. The screener also provides valuable information about the quality of developmental experiences a child has had prior to entering kindergarten. These experiences may include public preschool, childcare, Head Start and early intervention services like HANDS home visiting and First Steps. A common screener, used statewide, will provide important information to evaluate and continuously improve our public investment in early childhood programs.
In addition, the data gathered from the screener will provide critical information back to home communities so they can evaluate their efforts to ensure ALL children come to school with the foundation necessary to be successful early on. And, state- and local-level data from the screener, along with other early childhood data, can help taxpayers know if public funding for early childhood and elementary school makes a difference.
Finally, a major component of Kentucky’s new Unbridled Learning accountability model for the state’s public school system is individual student growth. The screener provides an important baseline for a system of measurement. This system supports each elementary teacher as they strive to take a child from wherever they are when they arrive to successfully learning to read by the end of 3rd grade — at which time, they must be proficient readers to continue to be successful in primary, intermediate, middle and high school.
The importance of early childhood development and education cannot be overstated. The brain grows more rapidly in the first 3 to 5 years than at any other time in life. Multiple research disciplines, including neuroscience, social science and economics, have all documented the critical importance of high-quality early childhood initiatives. If children who need extra help are identified early, the chances that they will need special education services in the future are lessened.
While Kentucky continues to make significant strides in education, the state still has work to do. According to Education Week’s 2012 “Quality Counts” report, 13 states ranked above Kentucky in overall grades and scores. Of these states, 10 have kindergarten assessments in development or in place. As one measure among multiple measures, a common readiness screener is a critical tool necessary for Kentucky to make continuous educational improvement.
Investments such as the common kindergarten screener, when done well, result in a significant return to our state through higher levels of education, less need for remediation and a stronger workforce.
A common kindergarten screener is one component of a system that will allow Kentucky to ensure our investment in early childhood pays off by providing students with the appropriate levels of intervention in early elementary school to ensure long-term success. Giving teachers the tools to help them better identify developmental needs is an appropriate investment of public funding.
Brigitte Blom Ramsey is a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, the Kentucky Early Childhood Advisory Council and the Governor’s Task Force on Early Childhood Development and Education.