Entering kindergartners to get tested next year

djournal-education-newsBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – One concern expressed by Mississippi public school kindergarten teachers – the lack of a readiness assessment for students entering kindergarten – is slated to be addressed for the 2014-15 school year.

Kim Benton, an interim deputy superintendent with a focus on the pre-kindergarten and literacy areas, said the state Board of Education is putting in place a readiness exam that will be administered each year to the 43,000 students entering kindergarten.

The need for the assessment was one of many areas addressed in the first-ever survey of Mississippi public school kindergarten teachers. Benton and Linda Southward, director of Mississippi KIDS COUNT and a research professor at Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center, discussed the survey Monday at the Department of Education headquarters.

The survey, conducted by KIDS COUNT, found 41 percent of kindergarten students were not “kindergarten ready.” The survey found 83 percent of the teachers support a school- readiness assessment.

Currently, according to Mississippi KIDS COUNT, 17 percent of Mississippi students under age 6 receive appropriate development screenings compared to 54 percent in North Carolina and 100 percent in Alabama.

Southward said, “If students begin school so far behind their peers, they continue that throughout school” and often never catch up.

Both Southward and Benton said legislation passed during the 2013 session to develop a “third-grade reading gate” requiring most students to read on grade level before advancing to the fourth grade and a pilot pre-K program where the state through the Board of Education incorporates standards that pre-K entities can voluntarily follow are programs heading in the right direction.

But both said more must be done. Many, including newly named state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright, advocate for a universal pre-K program, though there seems to be little appetite in the Legislature for a universal program.

The school readiness assessment is part of the process of putting in place mechanisms to help students pass through the third-grade reading gate.

The assessment, Benton said, will look at such things as a child’s ability to communicate; to understand basic math, such as handing a person two pencils when requested; to understand how to follow the words on a page; and to be able to repeat details of a story read to the child.

Both said studies indicate states that invest in pre-kindergarten save money in the long run. Benton said studies show that children from low-income families often hear 1,500 fewer words per hour, which negatively impacts a child’s ability to learn.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com