USD 457 approves kindergarten retention




Kindergarten students who don't meet certain requirements will have to repeat their kindergarten year under a new measure approved by the USD 457 Board of Education.

The BOE's 5-1 approval at Monday night's regularly-scheduled meeting gives the district the go-ahead to implement a three-year pilot program. The first-grade readiness committee will be asked to present annual data on the results of the program. After three years, it may be modified.

Board members Lara Bors, Alex Wallace, Tom Blackburn, Tim Cruz and Mark Rude voted in favor of the measure.

Jean Clifford, board president, voted against it, citing concerns of social and psychological side effects.

Clifford said she wasn't comfortable mandating retention and that it should be the parents' ultimate decision.

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.

Lisa Cady, committee member, said the district will have fewer retentions at higher grades if skills and struggles are identified at the kindergarten level.

Some of the skills necessary to pass kindergarten include reading out loud, 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.

Committee members say the retention program will bridge the communication gap between parents and educators, and will strengthen that relationship.

Clifford disagreed Monday night, saying the measure may alienate parents if they don't have the final say in the decision.

"It may reduce the trust and cooperation we have with our parents," she said.

Clifford said the district shouldn't make mandates when it comes to these decisions.

"We need to educate. Not dictate," she said.

Bors said she was in favor of the measure.

She said she talked to several district teachers, mostly second-grade instructors, who said they are in favor of the measure.

Bors said many of the second-grade teachers said they deal with students who are not ready for second grade.

"I think it has been a uniform position of this board that early education is critical for the success of our students," she said.

Bors said the decisions will be data-driven, and not solely reactions or decisions by one teacher.

Rude asked committee members Monday night if the retention could work in reverse — if parents could choose to hold their students back.

Committee members said that is an option they will explore.

Clifford also suggested the district bring back kinderprep, an early childhood program that promoted kindergarten readiness.

Skyler Lightner, kindergarten teacher at Jennie Wilson Elementary School and a committee member, said the committee didn't explore that option due to district budget cuts.

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.

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.

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