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Cuomo promotes new kindergarten evaluation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Sept. 27, 2011)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Sept. 27, 2011) Credit: AP

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other state authorities are pushing a plan to evaluate all kindergartners as they enter school, to determine their readiness for the classroom.

The proposed new requirement, which would take effect in the 2014-15 school year, aims in part at helping the state win an estimated $100 million in grants offered by the Obama administration to upgrade early-childhood education.

If approved, the new assessments would affect about 190,000 kindergartners statewide each year, including 31,000 on Long Island. The plan is scheduled for discussion Monday by the state Board of Regents, which has the final say on the issue.

Cuomo aides describe the assessment plan as vital in obtaining funds to improve preschools, Head Start centers and other agencies focused on early learning, to better prepare youngsters for kindergarten so they don't need remedial help in the later grades. One hope is that the state can use some of the money to establish quality ratings for such centers, which would serve as useful guides for parents.

"Investing in early learning programs could return as much as $7 for every dollar spent," said Joshua Vlasto, a spokesman for the governor, referring to possible savings in remedial education.

Educators familiar with the plan say assessments probably would involve some individual testing of students, along with teacher observations. Supporters stress that any testing would be appropriate for 5-year-old children, and that results would not be used to delay their entrance into kindergarten.

"It's not like you have to pass it," said Dana Friedman, president of the Plainview-based Early Years Institute and an adviser to the state. "It's just a starting point to let the teacher know how to help the child progress."

Friedman's institute promotes quality education and health care for young children. She sits on the New York State Early Childhood Advisory Council, which works with Regents staff in the State Education Department.

The state already requires schools to screen children entering kindergarten, to determine whether they are possibly gifted academically, or have a disability or speak limited English. The new plan would greatly broaden state-required assessments, to measure all children's readiness for school. Albany officials say 25 other states, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Vermont, already have kindergarten entry assessments in place.

On the Island, many school districts already assess kindergartners with tests bearing such names as DIAL and DIBELS. Many educators favor assessments that track youngsters' classroom activities over time, rather than relying on one-shot testing sessions between teachers and students. An example is the Work Sampling System, developed by Chicago researcher Samuel Meisels, which collects portfolios of students' classwork and compares this against specific standards.

"It's a more comprehensive view of the child, based on what the child actually does," said Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, a Boston-based group that advocates against overuse of standardized tests.

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