The case for early learning
Woodburn superintendent says state kindergarten assessment results show need for earlier intervention
The results of the 2014-15 Oregon Kindergarten Assessment, which were released by the state Department of Education last week, only reinforces the need for early learning and earlier intervention before kindergarten, according to Woodburn Superintendent Chuck Ransom.
The assessment, now in its second year, is part of a statewide initiative focusing on a few skills that are strongly linked to third-grade reading and future academic success.
Rather than a comprehensive look at what children know, the evaluation is intended to provide a snapshot of the fluency, numeracy and approaches to learning skills that students have when they enter kindergarten.
The assessment is separate from the tests mandated by federal law, which start at third grade. Ransom said its important that school districts get data on where students are coming from earlier than that.
Its about trying to find a baseline, Ransom said. Were trying to find out where our kids are at coming in, so we can structure our programs to meet their needs.
The assessment started statewide in fall 2013, but its really not anything new for the Woodburn School District, whose policy it has long been to assess new students language skills at the time of registration.
We assess them in their first language, whether its Spanish or Russian or English, and in English, Ransom said. So weve known, more or less, the literacy levels of our kids for many years.
The states assessment results should not surprise anyone familiar with the district and its composition. The data show that Woodburn students, when they begin their public school careers, are generally in line with their peers in approaches to learning and early mathematics, while they lag significantly behind in early English literacy.
According to the 2014-15 assessment, local students matched or even exceeded the statewide averages for self-regulation and interpersonal skills (two measures dealing with approaches to learning) and came in just behind the statewide results for numbers and math operations.
However, while the general population correctly identified an average of 17.7 English letter names and 6.6 English letter sounds (out of 100), Woodburn youngsters recorded 6.0 and 2.8, respectively.
But on the flip side, local students scored much higher than their counterparts on a new component introduced to this years assessment: Spanish letter names.
On this measure, which was available only to kindergartners identified as both English language learners and native Spanish speakers, Woodburn students scored an average of 5.7, as compared to the statewide result of 3.0.
Ransom said the data, overall, underscore the need for early learning, and for intervention by parents and community partners even before preschool and kindergarten.
He pointed out that the goal, statewide, is for students to be reading at grade level by third-grade, and that target doesnt change based on where theyre starting with early English literacy in kindergarten.
The implication for us is that those kids who are not as ready have more work to do in a shorter time frame, Ransom said. Thats only a couple years to master some of these fundamental skills.
In Marion County, early learning programs are supported by such organizations as the Oregon Head Start Association and the Early Learning Hub. But Ransom said there are effective steps that parents and caregivers can take as well to help prepare children for academic success, things as simple as engaging in healthy, interactive play.
The one thing that the assessment shows us is that there really is a difference between the kids who have that kind of enriching experience and the ones who havent, he said.
He said the states public education system is slowly changing its approach, where education is viewed more as a seamless birth to career continuum, rather than each facet (preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, and so on) operating as independent islands.
Weve taken a very aggressive stance on early learning and pre-kindergarten education as part of a comprehensive community approach, Ransom said. This is the very beginning of the work, but there are all kinds of people working very hard on this, who agree that this is whats best for our kids.