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National Prekindergarten Expert Slams Misuse of Screening Tests to Determine Kindergarten Readiness


March 30, 2004

New Brunswick, NJ – Scores from a disability screening test are inaccurately and improperly being used as evidence that 84% of the state’s children are ready for kindergarten said a leading national expert on prekindergarten today.

“Someone is trying to bamboozle the Florida Legislature into thinking that the good people of the state did not know what they were doing when they directed the state to provide a high-quality preschool education to every child,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, a national early education think tank in New Brunswick, NJ.

“Data from assessments given at the beginning of kindergarten are outrageously being misused to state that Florida’s children and families would not benefit from a free high-quality education at age four,” he said. One test in question, the ESI-K, is designed to identify children who may have disabilities and developmental delays and who might benefit from special education.

“The good news is that the test provides evidence that 84% of the state’s children do not have a disability or developmental delay. Unfortunately, the test cannot and does not tell us how much of their potential is unfulfilled or how many will have problems succeeding in school,” he said.

Barnett said that other kindergarten data give a different view.

An assessment called the Work Sampling System finds that less than one-third of the kindergarten children are proficient in language and literacy. That is quite consistent with later results. In fourth grade less than one-third of Florida’s children are proficient in reading and in math, while more than 1 in 4 score below basic levels in reading and in math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“These results are not what Florida’s voters want for the state’s children,” he said. “Over time, the provision of excellent preschool education to the children of Florida will lead to increases in these test scores and fewer children who fail to achieve.”

Barnett said that the Florida Legislature should get serious about providing the quality preschool education the voters called for. Poor preschools won’t produce the desired results.

“Voters and parents throughout Florida should ask their legislators why they refuse to provide the quality preschools children need.”

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The National Institute for Early Education Research (www.nieer.org), a unit of Rutgers University, supports early childhood education policy by providing objective, nonpartisan information based on research. NIEER is supported through grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and others.

The Pew Charitable Trusts (www.pewtrusts.org) serve the public interest by providing information, policy solutions and support for civic life. Based in Philadelphia, with an office in Washington, D.C., the Trusts make investments to provide organizations and citizens with fact-based research and practical solutions for challenging issues. With approximately $4.1 billion in dedicated assets, in 2003 the Trusts committed more than $143 million to 151 nonprofit organizations.