by Lisa Wiltshire, Executive Director of Early Learning at the department
National data show us that students who are not reading proficiently by third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19. Reading is a barometer for success in school, wand we have to start focusing on reading from birth. If we want to improve all students’ opportunities to be successful in school and life, we must ensure our youngest students are on a path for success – from the start.
Tennessee has ambitious goals for ensuring all students excel academically, and we are especially focused on third-grade reading because we know it is a predictor for future success in school and life. Unfortunately, it is also a predictor of significant obstacles to success.
Of the almost 6,000 Tennessee students who scored below basic in third grade English language arts, less than 3 percent reach proficiency by fifth grade.
We can’t improve third-grade outcomes for all students without examining what is happening in children’s lives in the years leading up to third grade.
The early foundation years, between birth and eight years old, are critical in student development. Children’s early learning experiences begin in their home and vary greatly depending on a multitude of factors, including their physical and mental health, the health and well-being of their families and communities, their connections to caring adults, and the quality and length of their preschool experiences. It is important for teachers and districts to know where each student is academically when they enter school for the first time, as well as how it relates to their past educational experiences. That is why the Tennessee Department of Education is preparing to launch a kindergarten entry screener in 2017-18 for every child in the state of Tennessee.
The kindergarten entry screener will provide teachers valuable information about their students across a range of areas, including language and early literacy, brain development, early math skills, physical development, and social-emotional development.
The screener will not require children to take tests, but instead it will be comprised of activities that include teacher observations of students during teacher-directed activities, as well as observations of students in the normal routines of a typical classroom day.
This type of evaluation is more appropriate for four and five year-olds and will provide teachers and parents with knowledge about their students’ growth and development at the time they enter school. Teachers can then use that knowledge to tailor their instruction to meet the unique needs of each student, and parents can use that knowledge to help support their child’s learning at home. The screener will provide helpful information to parents and teachers, but it will not be used to select students for schools, programs, or services.
Another benefit of a kindergarten entry screener is that it will allow us to see patterns and trends of growth and development across students in Tennessee. This will enable us to see the areas where our students are thriving, as well as those areas requiring additional focus to help students succeed. Information gathered during kindergarten enrollment from families will inform us about their child’s preschool experiences so that we can compare this with information from the screener. This will enable us to see which preschool programs and services lead to children’s success in certain areas, such as early literacy skills, and will allow us to learn from successful programs with the hope to replicate their success.
Information from the kindergarten entry screener will help us improve the learning experiences we provide for our youngest students, ensuring a solid foundation for every student. We will build on early success in each grade so that all Tennessee students excel academically, resulting in greater outcomes for students in school and life.