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Florida’s Next Testing Target: Pre-K Children

| August 19, 2011

She's graduating pre-K, but has she been tested? (dbkfrog)

While K-12 teachers have come under increasing scrutiny over their performance, with student test scores now linked to their salaries, voluntary pre-kindergarten providers are skating by with little oversight and accountability, argues one prominent early learning advocate.

Pre-kindergarten programs should test their students more extensively, argues David Lawrence, the head of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation. Lawrence said this wouldn’t be a “baby FCAT,” but instead a loose assessment of a child’s social, emotional, and cognitive skills in order to determine progress.

“It really pains me that we haven’t, in this state, subjected VPK to the same rigor and accountability that has been done with K-12 programs and services,” Lawrence said at a Thursday meeting of the Higher Education Coordinating Council. Lawrence is on a campaign to introduce tougher standards to the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten programs. Earlier this month, he delivered a similar speech to the State Board of Education.

His efforts appear to be gaining some ground. The council, which has the authority to make recommendations to the Legislature and governor, signaled it is on board with many of his suggestions.

And next week, the State Board of Education will take up a draft legislative budget request for next year that asks for $4.6 million to begin offering voluntary pre-kindergarten assessments at a cost of $25 per student.

“There is an urgent need to follow what people voted on and have a quality pre-k program,” said Jon Moyle, a retired attorney and business representative on the Higher Education Coordinating Council. The council was formed in 2010 to help coordinate education efforts across higher education and Pre-K-12.

Lawrence, former publisher of The Miami Herald, is a longtime advocate for early learning and helped lobby for the constitutional amendment that first launched a state-funded voluntary pre-kindergarten program for four-year-olds in 2002.

But Lawrence argues that the promise to voters that the pre-kindergarten system would be high-quality has never come to fruition. “We do not have a high quality system in Florida,” he said, and Georgia offers a better program.

Advocates for early learning say extensive research has shown that the right educational intervention at a very young age can make a big difference in a student’s success. “We learn all of our lives, but the window for learning is open most widely in the years from birth to age five,” Lawrence said.

There are 166,398 students enrolled in voluntary pre-kindergarten in Florida.

Like most state-funded programs, the economic recession has curtailed funding for VPK. This year, the Legislature cut funding for the program by $20 million, leaving about $385 million, or $2,383 per child.

Besides more testing, Lawrence said pre-kindergarten instructors should be required to use curriculum that has proven to be effective, and teachers should be required to have associate or bachelor’s degrees.

Florida already tests kindergarten readiness within the first 30 days of the school year.

That data is used to calculate the kindergarten readiness rate for private and public school providers in voluntary pre-kindergarten, similar to how public schools receive lettered school grades.

But Lawrence said more assessment is needed.

“What we are trying to understand is two things, one, how good the provider is, and number two, where the child is developmentally, behaviorally, socially and cognitively,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said he has been advocating this issue for years and was hopeful it would lead to legislative reforms.

“My hope is that the (lawmakers) will say “Oh, I get it,” Lawrence said.”We need to fix this so it’s the high quality people voted for. And you could make a significant number of fixes at a very small monetary cost.”

–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida

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10 Responses for “Florida’s Next Testing Target: Pre-K Children”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    Every important research group and early childhood organization that I know are opposed to this kind of testing. There are some very hard headed people out there as well as just plain dumb people. This must be best desbried as an experiment on yound people who have no choice in the matter. Of course a lot of people will make a lot of money making and trying out tests on kids, Personaly, I am glad my kids are too old.It is a stupid idea.

  2. Jack says:

    Florida among other conservative states are in race to the bottom. We might end up like looking like Texas one day.

  3. IML8 says:

    ok..this is getting rediculous. There are no studies that show the earlier we teach reading and math the better the kids are at it. Sweden and Finland I believe has the highest reading scores of 4th grade students (I read it in an article awhile back) … they do not start formal education there until 6/7 years old. I miss the days when in Kindergarten you learned how to play with others, write your full name, tie your shoes, follow directions, colors, numbers etc… We are expecting to much out of these little kids and it sets them up for failure later on. They learn much to early what they are and aren’t good at and then they get in the mindset that Im not good at reading…. so then they become a poor reader….forget the high expectations at the pre-k – K level…instead it turns into self-fulfilling prophecy.

  4. Devrie says:

    The results are in the overall ability to do okay in K-12 schools! Children at such young ages are vulnerable to a great developmental gap. There should be no testing of the students, but there should be general standards for the VPK program.

  5. Out of curiosity says:

    The bottom line is that there’s big money in testing…

  6. Michelle says:

    They would be crazy to pay that kind of money for state testing. Are they planning on holding the children back a grade if they do not pass their stupid testing? I’ll be damned if they are going to subject my child to this nonsense. Let the kids be kids. Let them enjoy the only few care free years they have. Why make them feel like they have to pass some written test? They will have plenty of testing and obstacles in their lives. If parents would take more of an initiative to teach their own children things, we would not have to rely on the school system to make so many ridiculous laws. Of course our schooling is not as good as most other states, the state keeps taking away all the funding. How are the school supposed to educate our children with no money. State legislators really need to make up their minds. They either want our children to succeed or they dont.

  7. Nancy N. says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake can we finish potty training our kids before we put a #2 pencil in their freaking hands and click a stopwatch? Or maybe we should have pediatricians start reporting statistics on when they start babbling and rolling over so that we can have early intervention if kids aren’t meeting standards?

    When did this country become convinced that everything could be solved by tests and statistics?

  8. Jim Guines says:

    Naancy N.when the Bush Family found out that they could make more money making tests than they could from oil!

  9. Anna says:

    51 million dollars goes into FCAT. Don’t tell me there is no money for education. A teacher will not be educating their students what they should be learning, they are educating them for the FCAT. So basically our kids are wasting their time in school.

  10. Liana G says:

    Mr Lawrence seems to be on the same page with the DOE. This is really not so terrible and the concept of making assessments/observations of students are similar to Finland’s model.


    How does Obama want to reshape preschools? Education Department shows its hand. By Amanda Paulson, Staff Writer / August 23, 2011

    …”The Department of Education on Tuesday announced the guidelines governing the $500 million in Race to the Top grants that it sees as a tool to reshape preschool education in America.[…] Now, with the new guidelines for the competition, called the Early Learning Challenge, it is clear that the administration wants states to develop a public rating and improvement system for early-childhood programs.[…]

    “The overarching goal of this challenge is to make sure that many, many more children enter kindergarten ready to succeed,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.[…] “How can our children compete for the jobs of tomorrow when they’re already behind by the time they’ve started kindergarten?” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius,[…] HHS, which distributes much of the federal money for childhood and early-learning programs, is a partner in the grant program. And the standards, she says, will emphasize behavioral, social, and physical health as well as academics. […]

    Secretary Duncan and others in the administration emphasized that the assessments they’re talking about are not standardized tests, but are more observations necessary to evaluate programs and students and to improve instruction. “We will never ask 3-year-olds to take bubble tests,” he says. “That would be ludicrous.”

    Jacqueline Jones a senior adviser to Duncan on early learning, reiterated that “we’re talking about assessment in a broad context,… in which teachers gather information about children,” and said it is “tied to understanding how children are learning, how we can improve programs, and how teachers can develop the skills they need.””…

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