Readiness and Placement of Kindergarten Children
The Escalated Curriculum
You may be amazed at how kindergartens are changing. After visiting kindergarten programs, you may be thinking, “Wow, a lot of what they’re doing in kindergarten I did in first grade!” Many early childhood professionals would agree. More is expected of kindergarten children today than ever before, and this trend will continue.
A number of reasons account for the escalated curriculum. First, beginning in the 1990s, there has been a decided emphasis on academics in U.S. education, particularly early childhood education. Second, some parents believe an academic approach to learning is the best way for their children to succeed in school and the work world. And third, the standards, testing, and high-quality education reform movement encourages greater emphasis on academics.
These higher expectations for kindergarten children are not necessarily bad. However, achieving them in a developmentally appropriate way is one of the major challenges facing early childhood professionals.
Alternative Kindergarten Programs
Given the changing kindergarten curriculum and the prevalence of a variety of abilities and disabilities, it is not surprising that some children are not ready for many of the demands placed on them. As a result, teachers and schools have developed alternative kinds of kindergarten programs.
The developmental kindergarten (DK) is a prekindergarten for kindergarten-age children who are developmentally or behaviorally delayed; it is viewed as one means of helping them succeed in school. School districts have specific criteria for placing children in developmental kindergartens; some of their placement approaches are identified here:
- Kindergarten-eligible children are given a kindergarten screening test to identify children who have special learning or behavioral needs. Some states, such as Massachusetts, require that all children take a screening test prior to kindergarten enrollment.
- Pre-kindergarten children are given a kindergarten readiness test, such as the Kindergarten Readiness Test (KRT) (Scholastic Testing Service, 2005), to help determine children’s readiness for regular kindergarten.
- Parents and preschool teachers who believe that children are not ready for kindergarten consult about the placement of individual children. After the DK year, teachers, parents, and administrators confer to decide whether the child should be placed in kindergarten or first grade.
A transition kindergarten is designed to give children the time they need to achieve what is required for entry into first grade. These children are really getting two years to achieve what others would normally achieve in one. A transition class is different from a nongraded program in that the transition class consists of children of the same age, whereas the nongraded classroom has multiage children.
The concept of transition classes implies, and practice should involve, linear progression. Children are placed in a transition kindergarten so they can continue to progress at their own pace. The curriculum, materials, and teaching practices should be appropriate for each child’s developmental age or level.
Proponents of transitional programs believe they offer the following advantages:
- Promote success, whereas retention is a regressive practice that promotes failure
- Provide for children’s developmental abilities
- Allow children to be with other children of the same developmental age
- Provide an appropriate learning environment
- Put children’s needs ahead of the desire to place them in a particular grade
- Provide time for children to integrate learning—often referred to as the gift of time
Not all early childhood professionals agree that DK and transitional classes are a good idea. You can read “Still Unacceptable Trends in Kindergarten Entry and Placement” by the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAEYC, 2000).
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