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Early Years Column

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To avoid mislabeling young children or denying them access to public-school programs, state education departments should monitor the testing procedures school districts use, two researchers maintain.

In a survey of state assessment policies, Gaile S. Cannella of St. John's University and Judith C. Reiff of the University of Georgia found that 16 states and more than half the school districts in another seven require screening for children who are entering school or in kindergarten.

The assessments are generally used to target students for remediation or advanced placement, but sometimes to determine if a child is ready for school or grade promotion.

Citing data pointing to the unreliability of such tests for young children, the researchers contend that early screening may cause "developmental and curricular problems."

If children are categorized on the basis of such tests or denied services because they are slow to develop, they contend, "schools may be placing institutional needs before the needs of individual children."

In a paper entitled "Mandating Early Childhood Entrance/Retention Assessment: Practices in the 50 States," the researchers recommend that states "systematically investigate" the use of early-childhood assessments, the conditions under which children are tested, and the long-term effects of screening.

Researchers in North Carolina, meanwhile, report that too many children are being held back for a second year in the state's kindergarten classrooms.

A study by the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that 8.6 percent of the children in 53 randomly selected kindergarten classes were held back.

The study suggests that many were retained needlessly, and that no more than 2 percent of children should be held back in a typical classroom.

Early retentions cost the state about $22 million annually.

While teachers and principals generally were considered "quite knowledgeable" about proper instructional practices for 5-year-olds, only 20 percent of the kindergarten classes in the study met the researchers' criteria for "developmentally appropriate" programs. About 60 percent fell "well below" the criteria.

In addition to limiting retentions, the study, "Best Practices for Beginners: Quality Programs for Kindergartners," recommends that schools serving kindergartners be issued materials outlining appropriate practices and that teachers and principals receive training in how to impelement them.

After three years of study, the Maryland Board of Education has decided to keep the state's current kindergarten entry age.

The board found "no conclusive evidence" that later school failures would be reduced by changing the entry age, a news release stated.

Those who sought to modify the entry age maintained that many children whose birthdays fall close to the September cutoff date for 4-year-olds are not "developmentally ready" for school and may have negative experiences with a "lasting effect" on their school success.

But State Superintendent of Schools Joseph Shilling and state- board members maintained that the existing policy offers parents sufficient flexibility in deciding when a child is ready for school. They also argued that raising the entry age could limit access to disadvantaged children who stand to benefit most from early schooling.

Wisconsin's superintendent of public instruction, Herbert J. Grover, has formed an advisory commission to foster "landmark" improvements in early-childhood education, child-care, and family-support programs.

The panel of parents, legislators, business leaders, educators, and child- and health-care providers will examine current policies, identify needed services, and assess public schools' role in providing or coordinating them. The panel will submit recommendations next fall.

New research on Wisconsin's "latchkey" children underscores the need for such services.

In a survey of 2,400 parents in five rural communities, University of Wisconsin researchers found that 1 in 10 3rd graders and 1 in 50 kindergarten, 1st-, and 2nd-grade pupils return to empty homes after school.

"Latchkey children are not just an urban or suburban phenomenon," says a study by University of Wisconsin-Extension and its School of Family Resources and Consumer Sciences.

Citing parents' difficulty in finding child care, the study reports that one out of five would use and pay for after-school care if it were available.


To voice support for the proposed federal "act for better child-care services," coalitions in 38 states have designated this week "Action for Better Child Care Week."

"State Alliances for Better Child Care"--made up of child-care, health, education, labor, parents', and civil-rights groups--are leading activities ranging from postcard and petition drives to tours of day-care programs.

The U.S. Catholic Conference, meanwhile, has urged the Congress to pass a child-care bill, but warns that it would be a "significant" error to exclude programs provided by religious groups.--dc

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