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Many incoming kindergartners aren't ready for class

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At least a third of kindergartners weren’t prepared for lessons in reading, writing and counting on their first day of school this year, and at some local schools that number was more than half of each class.

Indiana’s kindergarten standards have changed during the past two years, and students are expected to be able to start reading by the end of their first semester.

For that to be possible, students need to be able to recite the alphabet, know the difference between lower- and upper-case letters and count to 20 or 30, local principals said.

At Pleasant Grove and North Grove Elementary schools, about one third of kindergartners start school without knowing all of their letters, and some were unable to hold a pencil or write their names, principals Trael Kelly and Brian Proctor said. At Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson, about a third of kindergarten students were behind at the start of the school year, Superintendent Matt Prusiecki said.

Between 40 and 48 percent of kindergartners at Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools started school unprepared this year, and at Franklin schools 63 percent of kindergartners were considered unprepared to start school, according to assessments conducted by the school districts before or after the start of school.

When students start kindergarten behind, teachers and classroom assistants have to create individual lessons to catch them up while also making sure students who are meeting or exceeding the standards don’t start to fall behind.

“You’re trying to get the support for the kids to get caught up with the rest so you can proceed with the instruction on the (kindergarten) standards,” Greenwood director of elementary curriculum Helen Crawford said.

Center Grove, Franklin and Clark-Pleasant schools want to start working closer with preschools and parents to be sure everyone knows what’s expected of students on their first day. Their goal is to ensure more students can read before moving on to first grade, which is expected under the state’s new kindergarten standards.

State lawmakers may consider having the state fund preschool programs for students. And Indianapolis Public Schools recently announced they would begin providing a full-day preschool program.

If local school districts offered preschool programs, that would help them reach parents earlier about what their children need to know when they start kindergarten.

The problem is finding a way to pay for preschool programs, Proctor said.

Principals and superintendents from area elementary schools and school districts also want to find more ways to reach parents about what’s expected of their children in kindergarten.

Most families wouldn’t know what’s expected of students until their first child starts school, unless they review the standards themselves, Kelly said.

About a year ago, Kelly started researching why some of Pleasant Grove’s students were behind on their first day. He found that of the roughly 33 percent of students who couldn’t hold a pencil or recite the alphabet, almost none of them went to preschool.

At North Grove, about half of the students entering kindergarten had been through preschool before starting kindergarten. Most of the students who were unprepared to start kindergarten had not been to preschool, Proctor said.

“By going to preschool they’re getting some exposure to some of those expectations, academic expectations,” Kelly said.

Kelly and Proctor both want to start working closer with Center Grove-area preschools to ensure they know what teachers expect of students on their first day of school.

Johnson County Learning Centers Director Dawn Underwood also wants Franklin schools to release the results of their kindergarten assessments to be sure everyone knows the standards.

Sawmill Woods Elementary School Principal Jenni Backer wants to know more about the preschool programs in Whiteland and how they are preparing students for kindergarten.

Baker regularly has parents ask her about preschool options in Whiteland, but right now she knows of few places to send them outside of Greenwood or Franklin, she said.

“I would like to have an understanding of what the preschools know about the kindergarten standards, and actually what their instructional day looks like,” Baker said.

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