School district mulls kindergarten retention policy

4/11/2013

By RACHAEL GRAY

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Under a recommendation from about a dozen educators in the USD 457 school district, kindergarten students who don't meet certain standards may be required to repeat the grade.

At an April 1 USD 457 Board of Education meeting, kindergarten retention committee members presented a study on what retention at that level would mean for the school district.

The board may take action on the measure at Monday's BOE meeting, and approve a pilot program for kindergarten retention.

Lisa Cady, kindergarten teacher at Gertrude Walker, serves on the committee.

"I think it will set a solid foundation of those beginning skills that they are going to have to build on. It's just a building process and if you don't have that foundation, then it's going to be a constant struggle," she said.

Some of those skills include reading, writing a sentence, orally counting, recognizing numbers up to 100 and writing numbers up to 100.

The retention guidelines are based on a rubric that roughly represents Common Core Standards, according to Kara Drohman, kindergarten teacher at Alta Brown Elementary School.

Both Drohman and Cady have addressed board members' concerns.

Jean Clifford, board president, said at the last board meeting that she would like to leave the retention decision up to families and parents.

Drohman said parent involvement will be imperative throughout the process.

"Our goal is to get parent involvement at the beginning of the school year. We want to make sure we're getting the information out to parents so they know what's expected, then talk to them throughout the year and keep that communication open," she said.

On average, 55 students are retained each year in Garden City schools. Cady and Drohman said they think that number will decrease with kindergarten retention. More students will get the help they need at lower grades.

"There's no consistency as far as standards. I think this rubric is a clearer picture of those, and that it will help earlier identify kids who need intervention through (multi-tiered systems of support)," she said.

So far Florida and Texas are the only states to have mandatory retention in the third grade. Previously Gov. Sam Brownback had made the same recommendation for Kansas. He is now recommending first-grade retention.

Drohman and Cady say the earlier, the better, and are pushing for kindergarten.

Holding back a student at third grade can have negative social and emotional impacts on that students, Drohman and Cady said.

"Kindergarten children are still dependent on their parents, and what their parents think about them. As a child gets older, he or she worries more about peers think," she said.

As students get older and are retained, the dropout rate increases, Cady said.

If USD 457 passes this measure, they will be the first district in Kansas to do so.

Cady said it's the lack of free childhood education that is putting students behind.

"The lack of free early childhood education leads to kids who are not ready for kindergarten, so they come and they're already having to play catch up. I find our parents are very supportive, but with some of their poverty, they're just surviving," she said.

Drohman said providing information to those families on what they need to work with their children may help.

At kindergarten roundup, educators will try to reach more parents earlier with information in their respective languages on how to work with their children, Cady said.

Drohman said consistency throughout the district will help as families move around a lot in Garden City, meaning students may be switching schools.

Cady and Drohman said other kindergarten teachers are supportive of the measure.

If the board passes the measure Monday, a district-wide pilot program may be implemented to test how kindergarten retention works in the district.

"We're looking at this as something positive to really help kids," Cady said.

Early this month, the Kansas Senate approved a modified version of Brownback's proposal to hold back young pupils who lack sufficient reading skills.

The compromise measure worked out with House negotiators cleared the Senate Thursday on a vote of 29-11.

The bill would require low-performing school districts to retain first-graders who aren't proficient in reading based on an assessment. Any decision to hold a child back would require consultation between parents and school officials.

Brownback proposed in January that third-graders be held back if their reading scores were lacking. The proposal was part of his policy to improve fourth-grade reading scores statewide.

Opponents of retention say it's a costly measure. School officials in Wichita have said the money Brownback has proposed spending on retention would be better spent on a statewide program that better equips teachers, according to The Wichita Eagle.

Julie Ford, superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, has said a student from a poor family may enter kindergarten with a 400-word vocabulary, limited access to books and libraries, no preschool experience and virtually no encouragement in reading. Meanwhile, a more privileged student may enter with preschool education, loads of encouragement, books and an iPad and a 1,100-word vocabulary, according to an article in The Wichita Eagle.

She suggested that the state consider funding full-time kindergarten and adding more school days to the school year since fewer students now need summers off for farm work.

"Retention is not a good use of time," she told The Eagle.

Ford's comments were in response to holding back fourth-graders.

The USD 457 BOE will meet at 6 p.m. Monday night in the Board Meeting Room of the Educational Support Center, 1205 Fleming St.

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