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Florida Prepares to Assess Preschoolers' Academic Skills

Preschoolers who participate in Florida's Voluntary Prekindergarten program will get a taste of the years of testing ahead of them when they undergo an assessment of their early literacy, language and mathematics skills this month and then again at the end of the school year.

Granted, the Voluntary Prekindergarten Assessment will be conducted more like a game or a conversation with a teacher than a pencil-and-paper exam. And kids won't be graded on their performance; rather, the results are expected to eventually be used to help judge the quality of preschool programs, according to news reports.

But the test still will be assessing the academic skills of some 180,000 4-year-olds, and that has raised concerns about whether it is a proper method of assessment.

Florida legislators mandated the development of the test, which is expected to provide information that teachers can use to plan lessons that meet the individual needs of their students, according to state officials. Kids participating in programs run by both private and public providers will take the assessment.

But critics worry that providers won't have time to train staff in how to administer the assessment—providers were scheduled to receive free assessment kits at the end of last month—and that the test, which is supposed to be given one-on-one, will tie up teachers and could create staffing problems.

And there is concern about the limited scope of the assessment.

Back in June, the state's Early Learning Advisory Council asked Gov. Rick Scott to halt the implementation of the test this fall partly because it assesses "a very narrow skill set that looks at a small range" of Florida's standards for 4-year-olds and could lead to "poor instruction that is inappropriate for young children," according to a council letter.

The council instead called for a "research-based, reliable, and valid assessment instrument" that addresses all of the state's standards and has a national reference group for comparison. The state's Office of Early Learning is leading the effort to develop just such a tool, the council said.

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