By Jennifer Wohlleb
After a year of pilot programs, all Kentucky school districts will be using a new screener this fall that will gauge the school readiness of its incoming kindergartners.
"What it does is give you a snapshot of your youngsters' abilities as they come into kindergarten in five different domains," said KSBA conference clinic presenter Brigitte Blom Ramsey, a member of the Kentucky Board of Education. "Basically, we're looking at the whole child in relation to their cognitive abilities as well as their social/emotional abilities."
Those five areas being screened are:
• Approaches to learning
• Health and physical well-being
• Language and communication development
• Social and emotional development
• Cognitive and general knowledge
"School readiness is important; we think it will help us achieve our college and career readiness goals," she said.
Ramsey, a former Pendleton County school board member, said community collaboration has been a big part of this because getting kindergarteners prepared to learn is often done outside of the school district.
"That's community work, that's family work, that's home, so we need our communities to be collaborating to be sure all kindergarteners are coming to school ready to be successful and that all schools are ready to receive those children as they come into kindergarten," she said. So community collaboration to move that needle forward is what we need to be doing."
Focusing on early childhood education is crucial because research shows that it has a long-lasting effect on success later in life.
"… the root of our growth as a nation, economists and researchers went back through postsecondary and secondary education, middle school and elementary and kept going backwards until they found the root of human capital, the root of human investment in our productivity is in fact in early childhood," Ramsey said. "That's where the research shows is the largest return on investment for our public dollar, anywhere between $3-$17 on our return on investment (per dollar). Not only are there short term gains but long-term gains as well : greater high school graduation, attachment to the work force, lower crime statistics, better health outcomes. In the short term we're talking about closing the gap, educational achievement. So we're talking about increased third-grade reading and math proficiency, increased scores on PLAN, EXPLORE and ACT.
She said it also helps with character development.
Cindy Heine, associate executive director of the Prichard Committee, said her organization has been promoting a collaborative early education model for years, based in part on the work of the Perry Preschool, which studied the results of providing high-quality preschool education to 3- and 4-year-old African-American children living in poverty and assessed to be at high risk of school failure.
"We know that as we look at that Perry Preschool data and they're looking at those children who had the opportunity, 40 years later they are more likely to have graduated from high school, more likely to have gone to college, more likely to own a home, more likely to have a savings account," she said. "So the benefits of those programs last a lifetime.
"We know those early years are when the brain development is happening most rapidly and sets the foundation for later learning."
Heine said school officials also need to know where their students are coming from before entering the school system.
"What kind of environments are they in," she asked. "Is there anything you can do to improve those environments?"
Ramsey said if districts' kindergartens and elementary schools are aligned along best practices for early learning, the end result should be students coming to school prepared, which means increasing proficiency rates in math and reading in the third grade.
"That means kids are more apt to be successful in middle school and high school as they’re using their reading and math skills to learn," she said.