Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

The importance of kindergarten assessments and literacy

Brady Dickinson

The first day of school is always filled with nervous excitement. Each year I visit schools on the first day to see the eagerness in students’ eyes as they take their first steps into their classrooms. With nearly 600 new kindergartners entering our school system here in Twin Falls each year, their first day marks the beginning of our teachers’ opportunities to support these children who will matriculate through our schools and eventually become members of our community.

Kindergarten students begin their first day learning to find their seat, how and where to hang their backpack, and most importantly, how to say the pledge of allegiance. Each child enters the kindergarten classroom with a different background. Some are already familiar with the alphabet, how to hold a book, write their name, and are starting to read on their own. For others, kindergarten will be their first experience in a learning environment.

In Twin Falls, I often hear parents discuss the challenges they face when trying to find child-care and early childhood education opportunities (pre-school). Some programs do exist but they are sometimes cost-prohibitive or have long waiting lists. The lack of affordable and readily accessible high quality early childhood education opportunities is a contributing factor to roughly 60% percent of students in Twin Falls entering kindergarten below grade level.

Kindergarten may seem early to start identifying a student as behind, yet early literacy skills have a clear and strong relationship with later success in reading skills such as decoding, oral reading fluency, reading comprehension, writing, and spelling. This learning begins long before our students step into our classrooms. When given the opportunity young children can become aware of the patterns in speech, manipulate sounds in words, learn the relationship between sounds and letters and build their oral language and vocabulary skills. Preparing them for success in school. We all know how important it is to ensure that all students are reading proficiently by the third grade. This leaves us precious short time to make an impact and help our students excel.

As our state legislature discusses the topic of early childhood education, we have heard concerns about what might be taught at such a young age. Students are taught how to work together with others in a structured and supportive environment. They learn how to resolve conflict while playing and learning together. They learn language and early literacy skills through listening, talking, reading and writing through peer interactions. This allows them to think more complexly, make decisions, and solve problems together as they explore, ask questions, and create in the world around them through structured activities with their peers.

All of these activities are geared toward content standards. To put it simply, the lessons taught and the activities taking place in classrooms are designed to help students develop the academic skills they need to master, even in early childhood classrooms. The curriculum that is used, by law, is approved by the local school board. In most school districts, committees of teachers, parents, and administrators review the curriculum before it is presented to the board. These are locals making the educational decisions for our community’s children.

Teachers are always looking for additional ways to engage their students in learning. While curriculum (i.e. textbooks) are approved by the school board, teachers can bring in additional resources to help students get excited about what they are learning. This can take many forms from classroom libraries to online videos. Often, teachers work together to find the very best resources for their students. Anytime a parent has a concern or questions about what is being taught in their child’s classroom, they can simply contact the teacher or principal. If the content isn’t something they think should be used with their child, they can opt out of specific learning activities. If they feel the content is objectionable, they can voice their concern with the principal or program director. Remember, these are people in our community who are making these decisions about what can be in the classroom; materials are not sent down from some federal agency.

While some might get bogged down in misinformation, what I see is the success in our classrooms. I see teachers who go above and beyond, not only teaching the content in the classroom but also reaching out to families. I see kindergarten teachers who notice a child hasn’t had as robust an early childhood education experience as their classmates so they provide the family with ideas of fun ways they can help their child catch up. I see literacy specialists who work one-on-one with those students to help them learn all the letters and their sounds. Those same specialists are there to celebrate with parents and teachers when that student reads on their own for the first time.

At the end of the day, we need to be utilizing every strategy and opportunity to help Idaho students achieve at their highest level. Early childhood education in the form of preschool and full-day kindergarten are important options that should be strongly considered in the success of all of our students. These early years are critical in the development of academic and social skills that ensure every Idaho student will be at grade level by the end of third grade. As a state, it is time to add additional support to give every student the very best chance at success.


Brady Dickinson

Brady Dickinson

Dickinson is the superintendent of the Twin Falls School District. He has been in the district since 1995.

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