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Evaluations judge letter and number recognition and social-emotional skills

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - These two youngsters in the Mt. Hood Community College Head Start porgram are learning through play in a literacy-rich environment. Kids entering kindergarten in East Multnomah County generally are not as ready for school as kids statewide, statistics released Thursday by the state showed.

Children are assessed in the fall as they enter kindergarten to see if they have a basic understanding of letters and numbers and whether they have the self-regulation skills to get along in class and do things such as lining up and listening to the teacher.

The evaluations are informal. Kindergartners are not marking test papers. Teachers sit with students individually and show them things with numbers and letters and see how much they already know.

"This is an interaction. It's one-on-one and very low-key. It's not a testing environment," said Julie Evans, executive director of elementary education at the Gresham-Barlow School District.

It also doesn't mean kindergarten is the new second grade.

"Kindergarten isn't a second-grade classroom. It's still an active, playful, fun, game-based environment," Evans said.

East County kindergarten readiness results are mixed. Kids just entering kindergarten in Centennial School District answered 9.3 simple math questions out of 16, compared to 11.1 statewide. The smallest scholars in Gresham-Barlow School District answered 10.5 of 16 and in Reynolds School District 9.7 of 16.

Corbett School District students, who consistently excel on standardized tests and graduate at high rates, start strong. They answered 12.3 of the 16 math questions correctly.

Statewide, children knew 7.7 letter sounds. Centennial kids just starting school knew 4.1 letter sounds, Gresham-Barlow 5.3 letter sounds and Reynolds 4.2 letter sounds. Corbett kids knew 12.5 letter sounds. Students are also tested on recognizing upper and lower case letters and the letter names.

In social-emotional skills area, or what the state calls "approaches to learning," kids measured 3.6 statewide. Beginning kinders in Centennial scored 3.7, Gresham-Barlow 3.5, Reynolds 3.5 and Corbett 3.9.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - This little guy is getting a head start through the MHCC free preschool Head Start program. The state said "this key assessment includes examining a student's social-emotional well-being via teachers observing and leading the student through daily activities such as following directions or cooperatively playing in groups."

Although it might seem premature to evaluate children this young, the Oregon Department of Education points out that these scores are linked to how well kids are reading and succeeding in third grade.

The evaluations also are useful for teachers.

Like many districts, Gresham-Barlow has a phased-in school start for kindergarten. The teachers try to get as many of the assessments done as possible before school formally starts. Gresham-Barlow even does its own assessments because the state results are not available for several months.

The evaluations "allow the teacher to adjust instruction to the group of kids they have that year," Evans said.

For example, if a few children know their letters and sounds, they can be gathered in a small group and start learning to read, she said.

Evans said the evaluations also "allows us to open conversations with our preschool partners such as Head Start" about adjusting their programs to better prepare kids for school.

"We might say 'you're doing a great job on letters, but you may need to work on social-emotional development a little more,'" she said.

The kindergarten readiness evaluations also show the importance of parents reading and interacting with their child from a very early age.

Evans suggests things such as "when you go to the store with your child, say 'we need six boxes of macaroni. Can you help me with that?'"

The Oregon Department of Education and the state's Early Learning Division released results on Thursday, Feb. 14 from the 2018-19 Oregon Kindergarten Assessment.

Gov. Kate Brown's proposed budget calls for an additional $270.8 million to expand access to high-quality preschool through Preschool Promise and Oregon prekindergarten and $15 million through what the state calls "culturally-responsive school readiness strategies" through the Equity Fund to benefit 10,000 additional Oregon children.

"The first few years of a child's life are a critical time to invest in high quality learning experiences that will continue to pay off throughout their school career," said Miriam Calderon, Oregon's Early Learning System director in the announcement.

"We know supporting children and families from the start helps them be ready for success when they enter kindergarten, and be on track by third grade," Calderon said.

The agencies said analyses will be released in the spring that will break down the data by sociodemographic characteristics. In addition, ODE and ELD will continue to track students' progression from kindergarten to third grade.

"This assessment helps us measure the strength and capacity of our early learning system and the readiness of our K-12 system to serve each and every child in Oregon," said Colt Gill, director of Oregon Department of Education in an announcement.

"It is not about the readiness of our children. All of our children are ready to learn every day," he added.

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