Monday, January 28, 2019

Ready or Not

I’m in the thick of writing student reports right now. The students I teach will be moving on to Kindergarten next year. As I do my best to capture student progress for parents I’ve also been keeping an eye on articles about Kindergarten readiness in Maryland.

Kindergarten Readiness Assessment previews preparedness of preschools WBAL TV, Tim Tooten

Less than half of Maryland students are ready for Kindergarten HoCoTimes, Liz Bowie

My first response to this is that I’d like to see the assessment they are using. I have read elsewhere that this is a computer-based test. Is that the case?  If so, it would automatically be discriminatory towards children who don’t have computers in the home or those whose parents have deliberately chosen not to introduce computer use to their young children.

The assessment we use at my school includes a basic gross motor screening. Does the State look at the readiness of student’s bodies or just their cognitive ability? Overall readiness is more than knowing letters and numbers. Children need to have mastered some basic control over their bodies and their emotions in order to function as a part of a group and take care of personal needs.

Sadly, it appears that children’s gross motor skills have been steadily declining due to a lack of vigorous, child-directed outdoor play. These deficits show up in the classroom in a variety of ways. I am curious as to how the Maryland State assessment takes this into account.

I have seen posts from parents expressing the understandable sentiment that, if so many children are deemed “not ready for kindergarten”, perhaps there is something wrong with kindergarten and not the children. I’d have to agree with this to some extent. Kindergarten curriculum has become more and more academic and less and less developmentally appropriate. Are we asking young children to do something which most of them are not ready to do?

On the other hand, early assessments for young children have value if they can be used to identify children who need to receive support. As we know, the achievement gap begins at birth. Early intervention, much earlier than this, is preferable. But, if this is the first time the student’s needs are addressed, then the point of this assessment should be to hook up the families with the needed services to ensure school success.

Bonnie Bricker, a former Howard County Schools early childhood special education teacher, is doing amazing brain-based early intervention through her Talk With Me Howard County initiative. Language development begins at birth and is fostered through every human interaction: speech, songs, shared eye contact, word-play, and parent-child story times.

I hope that the State addresses Kindergarten readiness as more than “which preschool you chose”. The steps which lead to a confident and capable young child at the age of five begin at birth. It’s in our power to substantially level to playing field by investing in early intervention from the earliest moments of life. And speaking of the “playing field”, we also need a huge push state-wide to get out and play.

Here’s an interesting idea.

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