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Oregonian: Oregon 5-year-olds less ready for kindergarten, state finds
Author: Betsy Hammond, Oregonian
Posted: February 12, 2018

Read the original story on The Oregonian.

Oregon children on average were less ready for kindergarten in fall 2017 than the year before, according to measurements of their literacy recorded during their first days of kindergarten.

The typical incoming Oregon kindergartner knew 8.2 letter sounds, compared with 8.9 letter sounds in fall 2016, could name 14.4 uppercase letters, compared with 14.8 the year before, and named 12.1 lowercase letters, compared with 12.5 in 2016. The state released those results this week.

Miriam Calderon, Oregon’s early learning system director, said she and others at her agency view the decline as insignificant; they consider the results to be flat.

But she said the results, including continued low levels of readiness among Latino and Native American kindergartners, point to a need for many more subsidized preschool programs around the state.

Gov. Kate Brown and other state leaders are proud that the state added 1,700 new preschool slots beginning in 2016.

But, Calderon said, “we’ve got to make a much bigger dent and do more in access to quality learning.”

Since 2014, teachers have measured whether students know names and sounds of letters during short one-on-one assessments at the start of kindergarten. Being able to name letters or say the sound a letter makes are important stepping stones on the path to becoming a reader.

The drop in students’ readiness last fall, while relatively small, is significant and a setback for the state. That’s because new information, available for the first time this year, shows that students who scored poorly on Oregon’s readiness test at the start of kindergarten remain far behind at the end of third grade. The pattern was very pronounced, with a child’s level of knowledge of letters and basic math at age 5 eerily likely to match his or her reading and math proficiency 3 ½ years later.

“This confirms what we have always known: if we can support children to be ready for success when they enter kindergarten, they are more likely to be on track in third grade,” Calderon said. “For the first time … we have our own data on our own kids in Oregon that tells us if we can offer more high-quality early learning experiences, we can improve their trajectories over their school career.”

The drop in the average kindergartner’s readiness came at a time when Oregon had offered targetted preschool programming intended to close gaps between white, Asian and well-off students, who typically enter school primed to read, and low-income and Latino children and other children of color, who do not. Most of those programs were short ramp-up-to-kindergarten sessions for high-need children in the summer before they enter school.

Now that the first crop of students who took the kindergarten readiness test have reached third grade and taken state reading and math achievement tests, the state can learn more

A Portland State University study found that those programs as a whole did pay off, at least a tiny bit. Researchers compared reading readiness scores at 283 schools that offered a transition to kindergarten class or similar preschool offering to those at demographically similar schools that didn’t offer a program like that.

Calderon agreed and said Oregon will do more to lean on its many early childhood researchers, some of whom are nationally known, to use data and research to help refine the state’s preschool efforts.

Among districts with at least 100 kindergartners, those in Lake Oswego, Sherwood and West Linn-Wilsonville showed the highest levels of reading readiness. At the other end of the spectrum, kindergartners in Milton-Freewater, Woodburn and the Centennial district of east Portland showed little familiarity with letter sounds when they first started school.