Early Childhood Opinion

Helping the Littlest Learners: District Reflections on the Potential of 4-Year-Old Kindergarten

By Urban Education Contributor — December 21, 2017 3 min read
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This post is written by Jonathan Mills, Communications Assistant at the Madison Education Partnership, based on an interview with Dr. Marcey Sorensen, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Madison Metropolitan School District (@MMSDschools).

Today’s post is the practitioner perspective on Monday’s post: Kindergarten Readiness: Enhancing Equity With 4-Year-Old Kindergarten.

The past year, the research focus for the Madison Education Partnership (MEP) has been exploring the Madison Metropolitan School District‘s (MMSD) four-year-old kindergarten (4K) program. In an interview with MEP Communications Intern Jonathan Mills, Marcey Sorensen, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction for MMSD, shares her thoughts about the most recent MEP report on kindergarten readiness and its impact on the district.

Sorensen says the initial direction of MEP’s research has been beneficial to the district’s thinking about their 4K program: “Looking at 4K as a strategy to identify and close gaps is something that would be beneficial to both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and of course MMSD — and our community as a whole.” MEP’s most recent report explores the association between enrollment in MMSD’s four-year-old kindergarten and student readiness for school as they enter kindergarten in the district. The report highlights numerous areas of success for the district and a few other areas which show potential for the district to improve upon.

“I am happy to see that using 4K as an equity strategy is working in some areas in terms of preparing our students for kindergarten readiness, but was also left with many questions around what Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) was doing that we are not; that is, producing substantially higher skills in early literacy than our students in MMSD,” Sorensen says.

Sorensen also acknowledges that findings from the descriptive report prompted a host of internal discussions. She believes these discussions ultimately support the district’s focus on improving outcomes for MMSD students. “We have studied these reports quite carefully and are taking all of this in as we think about the 4K strategies we are using as a district,” says Sorensen. “We [want to] ensure that we are thinking about ourselves as a 4K-12 district in terms of curriculum, instruction, and outcomes.” Sorensen concludes: “We have some really strong practices out there with high quality teachers. I want to ensure that 4K is providing an opportunity for all of our young learners regardless of the center, location, race, ethnicity, or educational background of our students. So I would love to take a deeper look into what are we doing well and where we need to improve; dig deeper into the WHY of all of this data.”

When asked about her vision for the district with these findings in hand, Sorensen says the district should “truly expand on what we mean by, and how we define, kindergarten readiness as a district and then create strategic plans to create programming that supports that vision.” Additionally, she believes the district could learn more about what MPS is doing to yield such results, as well as learning more about what MMSD is doing well that could be enhanced and replicated. “These reports, this partnership, causes us to take pause and examine our practices and probe us to ask questions to continue to refine and improve our practices which lead to better outcomes for students.”

Moving forward, Sorensen says she is witnessing the positive effects of the blossoming partnership between MMSD and MEP and has high hopes for its future: “I would love for the partnership to continue to grow, develop, and provide us with richer data around the whys and the longitudinal impact over time of 4K. That way, we can replicate our positive practices and create additional programming practices that will have a positive impact on our kids and the decisions we make as a district.”

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