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Oregon 5-year-olds less ready for kindergarten, state finds

February 13, 2018
Betsy Hammond
The Oregonian

Oregon children on average were less ready for kindergarten in fall 2017 than the year before, according to measurements of their literacy recorded during their first days of kindergarten.

The typical incoming Oregon kindergartner knew 8.2 letter sounds, compared with 8.9 letter sounds in fall 2016, could name 14.4 uppercase letters, compared with 14.8 the year before, and named 12.1 lowercase letters, compared with 12.5 in 2016. The state released those results this week.

Miriam Calderon, Oregon’s early learning system director, said she and others at her agency view the decline as insignificant; they consider the results to be flat.

But she said the results, including continued low levels of readiness among Latino and Native American kindergartners, point to a need for many more subsidized preschool programs around the state.

Gov. Kate Brown and other state leaders are proud that the state added 1,700 new preschool slots beginning in 2016.

But, Calderon said, “we’ve got to make a much bigger dent and do more in access to quality learning.”

Since 2014, teachers have measured whether students know names and sounds of letters during short one-on-one assessments at the start of kindergarten. Being able to name letters or say the sound a letter makes are important stepping stones on the path to becoming a reader.

The drop in students’ readiness last fall, while relatively small, is significant and a setback for the state. That’s because new information, available for the first time this year, shows that students who scored poorly on Oregon’s readiness test at the start of kindergarten remain far behind at the end of third grade. The pattern was very pronounced, with a child’s level of knowledge of letters and basic math at age 5 eerily likely to match his or her reading and math proficiency 3 ½ years later.

“This confirms what we have always known: if we can support children to be ready for success when they enter kindergarten, they are more likely to be on track in third grade,” Calderon said. “For the first time … we have our own data on our own kids in Oregon that tells us if we can offer more high-quality early learning experiences, we can improve their trajectories over their school career.”