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Districts assessing youngest learners

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When parents sign their children up for kindergarten, the youngsters spend about 15 minutes with their future teacher sharing some of what they know.

Kindergarten teachers ask the students to count, name colors and letters they recognize from the alphabet. Some school districts, including Franklin and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson, use that time to help determine which students appear ready for the lessons of kindergarten and which ones could use extra help before or during the school year.

Other school districts, including Clark-Pleasant, use the information to plan which lessons they’ll start with and focus on when the students start school in the fall. Assessments to see which Clark-Pleasant kindergarten students are on track and which ones need to catch up begin shortly after the start of school and continue throughout the year, Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.

“That way we can hit the ground running at the beginning of school and not have to wait on the fall data,” Rains said.

Schools across the county already are planning for next school year’s newest batch of students to arrive.

As of this week, 1,394 students are signed up for kindergarten at Johnson County’s six public school districts. That number likely will increase by the time school starts in late summer, as new families move into the school districts and parents who wait until the final weeks of summer sign up their children, school officials said.

Center Grove schools has 426 kindergartners signed up, which is an increase from last spring’s number of 362 students. The number of kindergartners registered at other area school districts ranged from 65 to 390 students, which is what they are used to seeing in the spring, school officials said.

School districts will use the registration numbers to start planning for the number of teachers and classroom assistants they’ll need.

School districts receive money from the state that pays for teachers’ salaries and benefits based on the number of students enrolled, but school districts get half as much money for kindergartners as they receive for students in first through 12th grade. That means Clark-Pleasant, Greenwood, Edinburgh and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson have to cover some of the costs for their full-day programs themselves.

But right now all of the county’s school districts believe the benefits of full-day kindergarten programs exceed the costs.

All of Johnson County’s public school districts offered full-day kindergarten programs last school year, and this year teachers noticed the students were better prepared for the lessons and assignments they had to learn and complete in first grade. Part of the reason teachers want full-day kindergarten programs is the longer days mean teachers have more chances to work with students who don’t understand a lesson the first time they hear them and to work with students who are behind because they didn’t attend preschool.

Clark-Pleasant, Edinburgh, Franklin and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools all have created preschool programs within the past two years so that more students can start practicing counting, learning the alphabet and learning how to behave in a classroom earlier.

Franklin started its program last school year after concerns that more than half of its incoming students weren’t ready for kindergarten. This school year, about 200 of Franklin’s nearly 400 kindergartners attended preschool, and 83 percent of those students met or exceeded kindergarten standards.

Franklin schools is reviewing the questions teachers asked this year’s incoming kindergartners, and over the next few weeks school officials will use the results to decide which kindergartners will receive invitations to the school district’s kindergarten camp this summer. The three-week camp, which is free to families, has spots for about 50 students and will teach the students what will be expected of them in kindergarten.

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