JACKSON, Miss. – More than half of the 4-year-old pre-kindergarten students in the Early Learning Collaboratives (ELCs) met or exceeded the expected performance level for kindergarten readiness, according to results from the first year of assessments.
More than 1,500 pre-K students took the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment in fall 2014 and spring 2015. The spring 2015 scores indicated that 58.9 percent of the collaborative students are at or above the expected score of 498. An end-of-year cut score of 498 was established for 4-year-old pre-K students, putting students on track to earn the kindergarten readiness score of 530 when they start school. This score is indicative of a basic level of mastery of the literacy skills needed for kindergarten.
“I can definitely see tremendous growth in all of the children that participated in the program,” said Dr. Jill Dent, director of early childhood education at the Mississippi Department of Education.
Based upon years of research by Renaissance Learning, the vendor for the assessment, both the 498 and 530 benchmark scores are predictors of 3rd grade reading proficiency. This score range indicates students can identify most of the letters of the alphabet and can match most of the letters to their sounds. The student is also beginning to “read” picture books and familiar words around the home.
Of the 11 collaboratives, eight obtained an average score that was at or above 498. Clarke County Early Learning Partnership, which included 111 students, made the largest scaled score gain between the fall and spring assessments. Lacia Donald, early learning coordinator for Clarke County Early Learning Partnership, credits teamwork and collaboration in the classrooms and community for helping students reach goals.
“The teachers met every week to work on lesson plans and the administrative personnel had conference calls once a month to make sure everybody continued to stay on the same page and work together. We are extremely proud of our boys and girls,” she said.
The Mississippi Legislature passed the 2013 Early Learning Collaborative Act to provide funding to local communities to establish, expand, support and facilitate the successful implementation of quality early childhood education and development services. An ELC must include a lead partner, which can be a public school or other nonprofit group with the expertise and capacity to manage an ELC’s pre-kindergarten program. The legislature appropriated $3 million for the program.
Nathan Oakley, executive director of MDE’s Office of Elementary Education and Reading, said many collaborative sites are in their first year of implementing a pre-kindergarten program that must follow the Mississippi Early Learning Guidelines for Four-Year-Old Children and the Mississippi Early Learning Standards for Classrooms Serving Four-Year-Old Children.
“Despite this fact, from the fall 2014 to the spring 2015 administration of the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, students excelled, as evidenced by the number of collaboratives exceeding the target score,” he said.
Oakley said there is a need for targeted support and professional development in a number of areas. The collaboratives will move forward with professional development based upon data from this past school year, and in some cases will participate in intensive training, based upon identified need.
The MDE has created a professional development schedule for the 2015-2016 school year that includes needed and requested topics to improve the quality of early childhood education. Also, the MDE has recently shared guidance on starting a pre-K program to aid districts in effectively using available funds to start or expand existing pre-k programs, such as those established through Title I funds.
Additionally, as a part of a study conducted by the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University, some 1,350 children were screened using Ages and Stages questionnaires that evaluated developmental, social and emotional factors. Of the 1,350 children screened, 326 of them needed referrals for developmental delays. Also, 255 children needed referrals for social-emotional delays, and 98 children needed referrals for both developmental and social-emotional delays.
“If there are delays in any developmental or social-emotional areas, then that can affect students’ academic growth,” Oakley said. “Our goal is not to put a label on students but to assure we personalize education based on student needs.”
The results from the questionnaires were used by ELCs to identify and refer students to Child Find. Child Find is a component of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) 2004 that requires states and school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities residing in the state, regardless of the severity of their disabilities, and who are in need of special education and related services.
“We want to put interventions in place to address childhood skills they are behind on to prepare them for school,” Dent said.
A copy of the ELCs Kindergarten Readiness Assessment score report can be found here.