Only two out of five Maryland youngsters are fully prepared for kindergarten, according to a preliminary report presented to the state legislature and board of education last week.
The report is part of an ambitious effort to train all the state’s kindergarten teachers to assess the readiness of children for formal education through observing, recording, and evaluating pupils’ everyday classroom activities.
Known as the Work Sampling System, the instrument was created by a team led by Samuel J. Meisels, a University of Michigan education professor, to help teachers assess children’s skills, knowledge, behavior, and academic accomplishments. Although the system is used nationally and internationally to assess students’ skills in the early grades, Maryland is the first state to use it to generate information on pupil readiness for every district.
“We finally will have information about how many children enter Maryland schools unprepared, and this sampling will point us to the areas that need the most overall attention,” said Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of education.
The report, “Children Entering School Ready To Learn,” produced by the state education department, was requested by the state legislature’s joint committee on children, youth, and families to help improve services for children from birth to age 5. Lawmakers will use the study to inform upcoming budget discussions.
“If we could have an impact from zero to 5, so all children came to school ready to learn, then we wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on remediation as early as 2nd or 3rd grade,” said Delegate Mark K. Shriver, a Democrat and a co-chairman of the committee. “The feedback I’ve gotten is that it was an eye-opener.”
Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, has proposed $19 million for a new early-childhood initiative designed to help reduce class sizes and pay for programs in preschool through 3rd grade. But he has not endorsed the state board’s request for full financing for all-day kindergarten.
“This [report] just proves that we were right on target,” said Reginald L. Dunn, a member of the board. “It is without a doubt one of the best things we can do.”
The report is based on readiness information from more than 1,300 teachers trained to use the sampling system prior to this school year. About 23,000 kindergartners statewide, or about 30 percent of the total, were checked in early November.
The study showed that 40.1 percent of the children were fully ready for kindergarten, that 50.3 percent were “approaching” readiness shortly after entering kindergarten, and that 9.6 percent were rated as “developing.” Pupils approaching readiness inconsistently demonstrated skills, behavior, and abilities needed to meet kindergarten expectations; such children require targeted support, according to the report. Pupils who were deemed to be still developing require considerable help in several areas.
“We think there are enormous implications from this report,” Ms. Grasmick told the state school board at its monthly meeting held here last week.
Starting next school year, all kindergarten teachers in the state are slated to use the system to compile baseline school-readiness information for every child, school, and district in the state. Ms. Grasmick said the information could be used to target federal, state, and local aid; establish partnerships with early-childhood educators; and modify curriculum and intervention programs.
Teachers observed and documented their students’ learning in seven categories over the first six weeks of the school year. Based on the findings, 50.9 percent of the children were rated fully ready in physical development to enter kindergarten, 48.3 percent in social and personal development, 43.2 percent in the arts, 34.7 percent in language and literacy, 34.7 percent in mathematical thinking, 33.8 percent in social studies, and 20.5 percent in scientific thinking.
Girls performed significantly better overall than boys. Children without disabilities were, in general, better prepared for school than those with disabilities. And a smaller proportion of children with limited English proficiency were rated fully ready for kindergarten, compared with their English-speaking peers.
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2001 edition of Education Week as Most Md. Kindergartners Not School-Ready