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Should We Screen Entering Kindergarten Students for Readiness?

A frequently heard debate these days focuses on whether schools should screen students who are entering kindergarten. The term screening conjures up thoughts of testing and all sorts of things that may or may not be appropriate when it comes to five year olds (and even older students in some cases). Some people believe children this age shouldn't be subjected to any type of screening; others believe screening is vital. The debate has been settled in Kentucky (at least for now). The state will begin using a readiness screener for all incoming kindergarten students beginning in 2013-2014.

I come down on the side of those who believe that the screening is vital, for several reasons. First, kindergarten teachers need the information to begin the school year using time as efficiently as possible and to serve children effectively as soon as they enter the classroom. According to Tommy Floyd, superintendent of Madison County Schools in Richmond, KY, and Brigitte Ramsey, state board of education member, "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."

Without the screening information, it sometimes takes up to two weeks or more for teachers to assess where the kids are once they are all in the classroom together. In my conversations with kindergarten teachers they have talked about the value of having this information prior to the start of school. And having the input of kindergarten teachers in this decision is very important. The tool Kentucky will use assesses key developmental skills including fine motor, gross motor, academic/cognitive, self-help (via parent input), and social emotional (via parent input).

Second, screening tools offer parents information about their child's strengths and areas needing more attention. Teachers who share this information can also share ideas about working with their child and begin developing a partnership between family and school. Research shows that when parents are engaged with the schools, their children do better.

Third, the information provides schools and communities with knowledge about developmental and curriculum gaps of children coming out of preschools and daycare centers. Sharing information with these providers provides an opportunity for continuous improvement. Preschool and daycare providers should be happy to receive this information so they can make adjustments in their programs as needed.

Eventually, data about each of the early childhood providers could be shared publicly so parents have this information as they make decisions concerning these services for their children. Although controversial, the accountability that comes with this will help us all improve.

There have been recent supportive editorials in Kentucky about the new statewide screening tool. This long-term investment, if implemented correctly, has the potential to make a positive difference for our kids' progress. I hope you will take the time to review this information and advocate for this service in your school.

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