Early Years

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The Nebraska education department has issued a memorandum to clarify a state regulation that bars wide-scale testing to gauge children's readiness for kindergarten.

The memorandum, sent to school administrators and early-childhood educators throughout the state earlier this spring, says screening children for kindergarten entrance violates a regulation revised by the state board of education last fall.

The rule, which says "admission to public school kindergarten shall be on an unqualified basis" to all age-eligible children, was stripped of lanugage allowing testing of incoming kindergartners to "gain information to plan instruction."

The rule had been "misinterpreted by many schools as justification for mass assessment of all children" in the spring or summer before kindergarten, the memorandum said.

It added that teachers' observations at the beginning of the school year offer "the best and most accurate information for planning instruction," and that the "vast majority" of kindergarten-screening tests do not meet professional standards for reliability and validity.

Harriet A. Egertson, the administrator of the education department's office of child development and the author of the memorandum, said that, while schools were "not necessarily overtly" using such tests to deny children entry into kindergarten, "often parents would use [low test results] to discourage themselves" from enrolling a child at age 5.

The memo said the rule change, which still allows screening to identify children for special education or Chapter 1 remedial services, confirms the board's "commitment to the principle that public schools must accept children with whatever skills and knowledge they bring."

Ms. Egertson said the clarification was needed because some administrators did not understand the rule change and planned to continue testing.

Warm, loving parenting at an early age is a greater determinant of adult well-being than such factors as multiple moves, having a family member die, or having parents who divorce or are alcoholic, a recent study has found.

The study by Carol E. Franz and David C. McLelland of Boston University and Joel Weinberger of Adelphi University involved 94 men and women who were subjects in a 1951 study of 379 Boston-area kindergarten children that explored the effects of warm and cold parenting styles.

Interviewed at age 41 for the new study, the subjects said to have had warm parents were more likely to be rated as higher in social accomplishment.

Whether parents got along or the subjects had otherwise difficult childhoods did not appear linked to adult social accomplishment, which was defined by such variables as having strong marriages, close friends, and rewarding jobs.

Results of the study, which was based on mothers' characterizations of maternal and paternal warmth rather than on direct observation, may have reflected such factors as "the extent to which a child's temperament was such that he or she was easy to parent," the researchers noted.

But "whatever the dynamic," they said, those with warm, affectionate parents were more likely to be "mentally healthy, coping adequately, and psychosocially mature in work [and] relationships."

Multi-graded classrooms, which some experts have advanced as a way of meeting the developmental needs of young children, are more likely to succeed if classes are small and teachers have special training and input into how they are organized, a new study advises.

The study by the Virginia Education Association and the Appalachia Educational Laboratory involved 74 Virginia teachers. While nine were teaching classes combining three grade levels, the largest number were teaching two-grade combinations of 3rd to 6th graders. Thirteen percent taught a combined 1st and 2nd grade; 8 percent, a kindergarten and 1st-grade; and one teacher taught a combined prekindergarten and kindergarten. In most cases, classes were merged to accommodate enrollment decreases or shifts.

While 24 percent of those surveyed said there were no advantages to combining grades, those who cited benefits said it allowed upper-grade children to review lessons, helped prepare younger children for new work, and helped motivate both groups. They also said it helped foster independent work habits and socialization among age groups.

But 83 percent cited such problems as insufficient time to master two sets of curricula, plan instruction, and cover all the material. They also had trouble scheduling lessons, gearing some subjects--such as health and sex education--for different ages, and teaching one group while the other worked independently.

Some also said that children were inappropriately added during the year and that some with special needs should not have been placed in multi-grade classes.

Recommendations by teachers and by study-group members included limiting class size; setting clear policies on student placement; adding more aides and planning time; making teacher assignments voluntary; and offering teachers more training and more input into programming.

Copies of the report, "Teaching Combined Grade Classes: Real Problems and Promising Practices," are available for $5 each from the Appalachia Educational Laboratory, P.O. Box 1348, Charleston, W.Va. 25325.--dc

Vol. 10, Issue 34

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