Archive for 2005

Individual Tracking

January is a great time to re-evaluate the progress preschool children have made since the beginning of the school year. Teachers should continually track and monitor, but January (mid-year) is a great time to chart progress. Charting progress is important so the teacher can provide support and plan activities that mirror the needs of the general group. Each program should find a system that makes it possible for the teaching staff to individualize tracking for each child. Preschools can have so many procedures that the regular classroom staff have a difficult time keeping up with all of the paperwork. The trick is to find a system that is easy to use, yet effective in keeping tack of each child's progress.

Social Emotional Crisis

In a new study by UC Berkeley and Stanford, researchers found that all children, not just children from low socio-economic households, benefit cognitively from attending preschool. Children in universal preschools made gains in language and mathematics regardless of their social class. Some of the researchers in the study, however, indicate that there is a dark cloud over the findings. Their concerns stem from the fact that preschool did not do much toward closing the gap between low income children and middle and high income children. Their second concern, and the one that casts the largest shadow on the study, is that attending preschool seems to have a negative effect on social development.
Considering the first concern, I am not sure much can be done to close the gap between the economic classes. We can't withhold preschool education from middle and high income children so that the lower income children can catch up. Many low socio-economic children have little support from home. Those struggling families fight just to put food on the table and have little time to provide educational help to their children. These families often lack resources and skill, not desire, to be a positive influence in their child's life. As long as these social conditions remain the same, it will be difficult for school systems to provide enough support to help the child "catch up." I applaud Head Start programs that are making every effort to find children at a young age so that they may influence the family longer than just one year.
The concern regarding negative effects of social development, does not seem to be credible to me. There was no effort made in the study to monitor the quality of the programs that were part of the study. Without monitoring the preschool setting, it is impossible to make an assumption that all preschool provides poor social and emotional development. I think the key is in preparing the early childhood educators (see my previous posts). In all my travels and workshops, I find that many preschool teachers lack skills in teaching social emotional strategies. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, found in their studies that training teachers in social emotional strategies helped children develop those very skills.
My conclusion from the study is that we should be thrilled that children are making cognitive gains. At the same time we should work on providing as much support as possible for low-income families and provide social emotional training for preschool teachers and caregivers.

Developmental Guidelines

I can understand the concern posted by "anonymous" on this blog site. The posting indicates a concern with the developmental order of preschool standards when children progress at different rates. I do not think that having a plan of developmental guidelines precludes the individual rate of growth for children. Even though children progress at different rates, it is still essential for teachers to organize their teaching strategies in developmental order. It is true that not all children will have mastered all preschool skills prior to kindergarten. However, it is the responsibility of the preschool teacher to know where the child is functioning on the continuum of standards. I think having a developmental guidelines plan helps the teacher to individualize and track the progress of each child. In my work with Head Start and with the Excelligence Learning Corporation, I have tried, with other early childhood professionals, to hone preschool skills and indicate when a developmental progression occurs within those guidelines. There are approximately 68-70 preschool skills in the eight domains of learning (domains similar to those of the Head Start program). While literacy, math and science have a definite developmental order for the skills, areas such as creative arts, social emotional stages and physical health have skills that can be worked on simultaneously. The real issue behind my earlier entries is that many teachers do not realize that some preschool skills have a scope and sequence to build upon and should not be haphazardly introduced in random order.

Money, money, money...

I was recently reading another blog, "Education on the Brink" ( about funding issues in education. Right now the discussion is centered on temporary financial assistance to the hurricane-ravaged South. A plan is necessary to get the thousands of displaced children back in school.
I think this situation has a lot to do with our crisis in early childhood education. We seem to throw money toward "quick fixes" to temporarily help certain early childhood sites. The fact remains, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, that early childhood educators and workers are grossly underpaid. This creates a serious situation when we expect these early childhood care-givers to guarantee the child is prepared for kindergarten. Somehow we need to provide long term financial assistance for early childhood educators to obtain a college degree and acquire the skills to understand the development of children. Teachers with these skills tend to create classroom atmospheres that are developmental and support the skills research indicates are appropriate for preschool children. Money placed in early childhood programs will reap rewards throughout the education system.

Appropriate Preschool Standards

In my last entries, I mentioned how preschool assessment is here to stay. Knowing that assessment or monitoring must occur, it is also appropriate to know what skills are being assessed. Most states have recently created or updated their preschool standards reflecting current researched practices, particularly in language, literacy and mathematics. Through checking many current state standards, I find that the required skills are generally the same for preschool throughout the country. Occasionally an off-the-wall standard appears, but usually the indicators are very similar. The one problem I see in some state standards, as well as federal Head Start standards, is that many times the skills are not listed in the devleopmental order that they should be introduced and mastered. Hopefully, state school programs, early childhood organizations and early childhood curriculum authors will provide some guidance on skills that have a developmental order of mastery.
I had a 'reality check' while visiting a Head Start classroom. The teacher was having the children sponge paint a pattern. It was evident to me, after observing for 30 mintues, that the children had no idea about creating or repeating a pattern. I asked the teacher if she had done any classification/sorting activities (a necessary skill in order to create a pattern). She replied, "No. We will do some classification activities sometime this year." When I looked at her curriculum plan it was evident that the skills were all randomly placed within each domain. This is why I think it is necessary to make sure any standards are placed in the appropriate order and sequence.

Assessment will continue

Whether early childhood experts like it or not, we will be forced to continue to assess preschool children. As I mentioned in the last entry, I think it is appropriate that we are accountable for helping children with school readiness skills prior to entering kindergarten. One of the hindrances in assessing preschool children has always been the fact that many early childhood educators are poorly paid and poorly prepared educationally to create effective and authentic assessment tools. As long as early childhood programs continue to have low wages, teachers without educational degrees will be filling the positions. This leads to a lack of expertise when it comes to evaluating the progress of individual children. When this happens, assessments that are not developmentally appropriately administered creep into the system. In this day of fairly homogeneous early childhood performance standards, the appropriateness of an evaluation is not in what is evaluated, but how the evaluation occurs within the early childhood setting.
I believe that the beginning of a good preschool assessment system begins with good assessment tools. Using these tools in a developmentally appropriate way is what makes the assessment authentic and accurate.

Leave No Child Untested

With No Child Left Behind (Leave No Child Untested), there is increasing pressure being placed on preschool programs to prepare children to enter kindergarten. In fact, the current National Head Start Test (NRS) is an excellent example of how government is insisting that preschool programs be accountable for preparing children to enter school. In discussing reauthorization of Head Start, Congress recognized that the NRS is poorly designed and has ordered scientific researchers to analyze the assessment and make it a more effective tool. Unfortunately, Head Start Agencies must continue to administer the poor assessment until it is analyzed and made more appropriate.

While I have no problem with being accountable for early childhood services, I am concerned about our ability to place a national standardized assessment on a four year-old child. Early Childhood professionals recognize that to paint an accurate picture of a child’s school preparation, there must be observation, analysis and formal assessments within the classroom environment to authenticate the information. Can a standardized assessment really do that? Are we going to be able to develop a system that will give us an accurate picture of the child’s learning? Given the track record of other standardized tests, I am not sure we can create an accurate instrument.