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Making the Grade: A Kindergarten Summer School in Minneapolis

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The nation's first minimum-competency-testing program for kindergartners scored a victory recently, Minneapolis school officials say, when more than half of the students who attended a remedial summer-school program passed the test after failing it last spring.

About 11 percent of the school district's 3,000 kindergartners had failed the district's promotional exam the first time it was administered last April. (See Education Week, May 23, 1984.)

As part of the testing program, school officials offered parents of the children who were not promoted the option of enrolling their children in a remedial summer-school program or a special kindergarten program that will begin this fall.

Almost all of the students whose parents opted to send them to summer school improved their scores on the "benchmark" test; about 55 percent of those students scored at or above the 63-percent cutoff point and 23 percent scored near that point.

Only 22 percent of the students who attended summer school scored well below the requirement, said Sally French, public-information coordinator for the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Officials 'Pleased'

School officials are "very pleased" with the results of the remedial program and are expecting the special kindergarten to produce similar results, said Richard R. Green, superintendent of schools.

"The summer-school program substantiates the notion that we can improve the educational chances of students by giving immediate support in a caring way," he said. It is important to note, he added, that more than half of the students in the remedial program passed the test after less than two months of additional instruction.

Teachers and principals are now in the process of determining whether or not the students who passed the test on their second try will be promoted to the 1st grade.

Because the "benchmark" test is only one of many factors in teachers' and school administrators' decisions to promote students, some students who fail the test are promoted and some students who pass are held back, Mr. Green said. "We individualize the analysis of potential as much as possible," he explained.

A Guarantee of Literacy

Although education officials in Minneapolis have received some "vocal" negative feedback about "flunking" kindergarten students, Mr. Green said educators in the school system believe the promotional test is a way of making sure all children receive a "basic" education.

"Our essential mission is to guarantee literacy and this will ensure that at the earliest point we will know how well a student is doing in the school," he said. The promotional-testing program is the centerpiece of the school system's "accountability process," Mr. Green added.

Despite its critics, he and others report, parents of children in the school system are, for the most part, in favor of the testing program.

"The knowledge of how well their children are doing is very important to the consumers," Mr. Green said.

The school system's promotional-testing program, developed under the supervision of the curriculum department, is part of a five-year school-improvement plan.

This school year, 2nd- and 9th-grade students will take grade-level objectives tests similar to those administered to the kindergarten class last spring, and 5th- and 7th-grade students will participate in the program in 1986.

Social Promotion Prohibited

As part of the school-improvement plan, the Minneapolis School Board resolved last year that the "social promotion" of students would no longer be tolerated in the school system.

Formerly, social promotion had not been the "policy" of the district, but was practiced routinely, Ms. French said. "Kids were getting passed along and getting farther behind every year, and if you miss the critical steps, you can't catch up."

Under the improvement plan, the kindergartners who were held back this year will not simply repeat kindergarten; a $300,000 remedial program has been added to the kindergarten curriculum.

The children will attend a regular half-day kindergarten class and will attend smaller classes for the remainder of the school day. In those sessions, they will receive instruction designed to prepare them for the benchmark exam next spring.

The kindergarten tests evaluate the children's knowledge of numbers, the alphabet, shapes, and various language concepts.

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