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Are kids ready to start school?

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Before their first day of kindergarten, local 5-year-olds sit down with a teacher or classroom aide for a test to see how much they’ve already learned.

The teacher or aide might start by asking if they know the alphabet and having them recite it. They’ll ask if they know how to write their name, and if they know which letters in their name need to be capitalized.

They will be asked to count as high as they can. And they will be given scissors and a piece of paper, a test of fine motor skills.

Through those tests, schools can determine how prepared children are for kindergarten. Not all children start school with the same experience: Some have been through years of preschool or have parents who read to them regularly, while others will be entering a classroom for the first time.

At some local schools, more than half of the students starting kindergarten are not ready, with some not knowing the alphabet and others struggling to write their name. When that happens, teachers have to take more time to work with those students to ensure they’ll be able to read and meet the other standards expected of them for first grade.

At Center Grove, students who fall short on the assessments are placed in the same classrooms as students who excelled. Those students then receive extra help as needed, such as with letter or number recognition, curriculum director Wendy Kruger said.

Some districts have a high number of students entering kindergarten without the skills they need to keep up or work ahead. This year at Franklin, about 63 percent of students who started kindergarten were already behind.

To help better prepare students, Johnson County Learning Centers director Dawn Underwood wants to start making Franklin’s

kindergarten assessments available to area preschools.

Most Johnson County schools encourage and provide time for teachers at different grade levels to meet and plan so they can be sure lower grades are properly preparing students for upper grades. For example, middle school math teachers work with Algebra I teachers at the high schools to make sure they know what the high school standards are and that they’re preparing students for what’s coming.

Providing kindergarten assessment results to preschools follows the same principle: ensuring students leaving preschool have learned what they need to succeed in kindergarten, Underwood said.

“To help (preschools) evaluate their programs and to monitor their curriculum to make sure they’re up to date with the new common core standards,” she said.

Johnson County has a mix of preschools. Most are privately funded, while others, such as Head Start, receive federal funding. The lessons taught at the preschools vary. Some classrooms have pre-planned, structured lessons for students, while others let the students choose each day’s activities.

Franklin is interested in collaborating with preschools, but no immediate plans have been made. The next step is to find out whether any preschools in Franklin are interested in working with the school district, Franklin assistant superintendent Dave Sever said.

“We’re not in the business of dictating to preschools what they should be doing. At the same time, it needs to be a collegial relationship, so we can work together to get these kids ready to learn,” he said.

Other Johnson County school districts also are looking for ways to work closer with area preschools.

Kindergarten has become more challenging partly because of new standards in all grades meant to develop students into stronger, more analytical readers. Kindergartners now need to be able to read before going on to first grade; and as kindergarten standards change, preschools need to know what schools are expecting so students are better prepared, Clark-Pleasant interim Superintendent Becky Courtney-Knight said.

“We push collaboration all the time between buildings. We need to push that collaboration below, with the preschools. They have their set of skills and knowledge, too, that we can learn from them,” she said.

Clark-Pleasant started considering working more closely with preschools this fall, partly because of the new standards but also because the school district was transitioning to a free full-day kindergarten for the first time. The school district’s full-day program gives teachers more time to work with students as the learn to recognize letters, words and numbers.

Working more with preschools would help ensure more kindergartners are starting the school year knowing the alphabet and how to write their name with correct capitalization, Courtney-Knight said.

Center Grove used to meet with area preschools years ago so they would knew what skills the school district required from incoming kindergartners but stopped years ago. Kruger said those meetings could start again if preschools are interested in working together.

“Anytime we can talk, it makes it easier to make sure everybody’s on the same page,” she said.

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