A new screening for Fayette kindergartners is intended to give teachers an early snapshot of students' skills, but some parents and early childhood education advocates question its validity and fear teachers will unfairly label students.
On Friday all Fayette County elementary schools will hold the first district-wide kindergarten orientation, which will include a screening for math and literacy skills. The 15-minute screening will include letter identification and sound, numbers, shapes and colors. But some fear the screening will be jarring for kindergartners and provide inaccurate results.
“What Fayette County has put together for their screening has not been validated; it's off the cuff,” said Laura Wathen, whose son will go through the screening. “To use the data from a made-up tool to say anything about these children is ethically wrong.”
Wathen has since spoken with school officials and was pleased that they listened to her feedback, yet she's concerned that the district is moving forward with the screening anyway.
The screening is in response to Fayette County teachers who asked district officials for a tool to better address the learning needs of incoming kindergartners, said Superintendent Stu Silberman.
“The results are not used for anything other than to give teachers a feel for where students are,” he said.
As of June 1, 1,611 kindergartners have been registered; 2,900 kindergartners are expected this year. In most cases kindergartners will be screened separate from their parents to have one-on-one time with teachers. Parents will be taken to another room for information sessions.
The screening was developed by a committee of Fayette County teachers, principals and district officials, said Shamiah Gill, a former teacher who is now a school official at Ashland Elementary.
“We just wanted a tool that would help us meet the students' needs better in reading and in math,” Gill said. “So we knew our kids better before they came into the schools and we could drive our instruction better based on this tool. It's definitely not an assessment that's going to go down on the records.”
The screening has been used for about five years in the Daviess County school district, where Silberman was the schools chief for nine years.
“We don't put a lot of weight on it,” said Jana Beth Francis, director of assessment, research and curriculum for Daviess County schools. “It's a quick way to see what readiness skills kids come to school with.”
Francis said Daviess County got the idea to use the screen from the Kennewick school district in Washington state, which has used the tool for years. Kindergartners face similar lessons in their first weeks of school, she said.
“By doing the screener right before school starts, you save some instructional time,” she said.
Sandra Noble Canon, director of the state division of child care, said she watched a presentation about the screening and felt it took “kids away from parents and put them in a stark environment.”
Canon said she also is concerned that the screen looks only at literacy and math skills and dismisses the importance of social, emotional and other forms of intelligence.
“There are no perfect screens out there,” she said. But “doing this without having a relationship with a child is against all of the early childhood research and practice.”
Jack Burch, with the Community Action Council that runs the Head Start preschool program, also attended the presentation. He said it's difficult to measure a 4- or 5-year-old's abilities based on how they answer questions on one day.
“We know from experience that preschool-age children, it's very hard to do a point-in-time assessment of a child,” he said. “That's not an age group that you can assess in that way.”
Silberman said the orientation and screening are meant for kindergartners and parents to ease into the school experience.
“We want (incoming kindergartners) in a very non-threatening environment to come into,” said Silberman. “If the results are used in any way, it's to make sure we have a good mix of kids in our classroom.”
Silberman is open to suggestions from parents and others and said school officials would monitor the results of the screenings.
“If there are adjustments that need to be made, then we'll make them for next year,” he said.