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New rule would put more pressure on pre-K programs to get kids ready for kindergarten

If approved by the state education board, the proposal would spotlight the learning gains of Florida’s youngest students.
Aiden Greenough, left, and Felicia Barrett celebrate graduation in 2017 from the VPK program at the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County. The state is preparing to change the way it assesses whether prekindergarten programs have prepared children for kindergarten.
Aiden Greenough, left, and Felicia Barrett celebrate graduation in 2017 from the VPK program at the Boys and Girls Club of Hernando County. The state is preparing to change the way it assesses whether prekindergarten programs have prepared children for kindergarten.
Published Aug. 16, 2019|Updated Aug. 16, 2019

Ever since the creation of Florida’s Voluntary Prekindergarten program, early education advocates have said the state needs to measure children’s abilities as they enter and as they leave, to determine whether their schools have helped them.

After years spent slowly moving in that direction, with changing assessments and added post-testing, the State Board of Education appears poised to take the next step.

It has a rule up for consideration Wednesday that would add learning gains to the kindergarten readiness rating the state gives to pre-k providers. That would make it more like the state’s K-12 accountability system, which first began calculating only passing rates and later included student growth in the mix.

The proposal, first mentioned to the board in July, would determine gains by looking at the number of students who performed better on all four categories of their assessment — Print Knowledge, Phonological Awareness, Mathematics and Oral Language/Vocabulary — at the end of the year. Those who maintained an “exceeding expectations” level would also be counted.

The percentage of students who made gains would then be combined with the percentage of students at considered “ready” to establish a school’s kindergarten readiness rating.

The change emerges soon after Gov. Ron DeSantis complained that too few youngsters were entering kindergarten prepared for the material.

RELATED: Gov. Ron DeSantis: Too many Florida kids not ready for kindergarten

Richard Corcoran, the governor’s handpicked education commissioner, said at the time that changes would be forthcoming.

“We must have a real accountability measure for all our school readiness programs. We are highlighting this data to serve as a rallying cry going forward that we will improve our early learning opportunities for students," Corcoran said.

At the board’s July meeting, Department of Education chief of staff Alex Kelly said the readiness formula change was just one move in the works. He explained that a new funding model was in development, and noted that a new advisory committee was working to redesign the state’s prekindergarten program.

The department also recently rehired well-respected former early education chief Shan Goff to lead the effort. She most recently had been working for Jeb Bush’s education foundation.

Florida has received praise for the accessibility of its pre-k program, which serves nearly 175,000 four-year-olds. At the same time, though, it has been criticized for its comparatively low per-student funding, and for its lack of curriculum requirements. See the National Institute for Early Education Research’s most recent review for added details.

Some lawmakers have said they want to find ways to improve the state’s early education system. Some observers have criticized any effort, though, that gives tests to the state’s youngest students.

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