Thursday, May 11, 2006

Exam Proves What Teachers Know

Affluent Districts, Ready Kindergartners
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Scott Stephens
Plain Dealer Reporter

Teachers have said for years that while all children can learn, the skills they begin school with vary widely.

Now, they have the numbers to back up that claim.

The just-released results of Ohio's new kindergarten readiness exam show that children just beginning school posted scores closely tied to the wealth of the community they lived in.

Kindergartners entering school in affluent suburban communities, for example, posted substantially higher scores than children living in high-poverty urban and rural areas.

Those results are hardly a revelation to educators.

Still, the test is being closely watched in education circles for several reasons. First, it represents Ohio's first attempt to quantify the challenges that schools face in trying to educate poor children.

Also, the data undercut arguments for states offering merit pay for teachers because they don't operate on a level playing field.

"It really shows what we've been trying to get people to see all along - kids from lower socioeconomic conditions need more help, and it really takes more work to bring them to speed," said Debbie Tully, professional issues director for the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

Generally, the kindergarten scores reflect trends that continue through high school.

Girls score higher than boys, white students score higher than black and Latino students, and students entering excelling districts score higher than students entering struggling districts.

Sen. C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland pushed fellow lawmakers to commission a study to gauge poverty's impact on student performance and determine how much money was needed to enable all students to reach the state's new academic standards. Prentiss never got the study, but lawmakers did agree to the readiness exam.

"My hope was really to get a truer picture of what districts had to deal with when kids entered kindergarten not ready," said Prentiss, now the Senate minority leader. "I wanted to know what it meant in terms of allocation of resources. You hear some of my colleagues say that it's not about money, but bringing kids the resources they need does cost money."

Parents such as Michele Krampitz appreciate knowing where their children stand. Krampitz, whose son took the test before beginning kindergarten last fall in the Rocky River schools, said the test is especially beneficial to children who skipped preschool.

"Preschool is where some problems would first have been identified," she said. "For children who have not been to preschool, this test might be the first time they hear about it."

But some worry that testing tots so early might result in labeling - at times inaccurately - children as successes or failures before their academic careers even begin.

"Part of this is the fixation on testing as a cure for every imaginable education ill," said Robert Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing in Cambridge, Mass. "Good teachers don't need to test like that to identify a kid who needs help."

'Nuff said!


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