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East County children lag in kindergarten readiness

Statistics recently released by the Oregon Department of Education show most East Multnomah County children are not as ready for kindergarten as students in the rest of Oregon.

Oregon students improved slightly in their readiness for kindergarten in early literacy and early math. Their interpersonal and self-regulation skills were about the same as the two years earlier.

“This overall positive movement upwards for all of our children is something we are celebrating,” said Megan Irwin, the state's Early Learning Systems director, in the announcement. “However, we must continue to focus our attention on closing gaps in opportunity and access for populations of students our system consistently and historically has not served well.”

This is the third year incoming kindergartners have been assessed on how well they are prepared for their first year of school. Teachers sit down with their new students during the first few weeks and see if they know their letters and numbers — and, for example, can count the number of objects in a picture.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Powell Valley Elementary kindergarten student Morgan Beckman works on an art project in class Thursday while classmate Reece Mosley explores a book behind her. For the “soft” behavior skills, teachers observe students' conduct in the classroom. To judge self-regulation, teachers look at how students persist at difficult tasks or use organizational tools, for example. For interpersonal skills, the teacher observes how well students share with each other or follow adult directions and basic rules of behavior.

In the area of self-regulation and interpersonal skills, a score of 1 to 2.9 means that the student is developing these skills; 2.91 to 3.99 indicates a student is “approaching” these skills; and 4 or better shows the student is demonstrating these skills.

In the self-regulation and interpersonal skills categories, students in the East Multnomah County districts were on par with districts statewide, scoring well into “approaching” these skills (see chart).

In the academic preparation areas, however, East Multnomah County students lagged behind the state average, except for Corbett.

Statewide, incoming kindergartners accomplished 8.5 of the non-timed math tasks, compared with 7.3 for Reynolds School District, 7.5 for Gresham-Barlow School District and 7.4 for Centennial. Corbett students bested the state average, completing 8.9 of the math tasks.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Powell Valley Elementary kindergarten student Reece Mosley reads a book Thursday in teacher Melissa Castellanos classroom. A recent Oregon Department of Education study suggests that east Multnomah County children are not as kindergarten-ready as their peers in other parts of Oregon.Similarly, literacy scores measure how many letters students can identify and correctly pronounce in one minute. Statewide students named 18.5 letters in the early literacy category, while Reynolds scored 12.8, Gresham-Barlow 15.3, Centennial 12.4 and Corbett 23.7. On familiarity with letter sounds, students scored 7.4 statewide, while Reynolds students scored 4.5, Gresham-Barlow 5.1, and Centennial 3.1. Corbett students scored 10.7.

Corbett School District's student success carries through its entire school career. Corbett students generally do better on standardized testing throughout their school years and graduate from high school at much higher rates that the state averages.

This year virtually all Oregon students are going to kindergarten a full day, compared to half-day for most students in the past. The longer kindergarten day is designed to help boost academic achievement and erase the vast differences that exist between students from high-income areas and poor neighborhoods.

These differences in socio-economic status help produce wildly varied backgrounds for children entering kindergarten. Some attend private preschools, day care or Head Start, and some have no prior school experiences. Some come from families that read to them daily and visit educational places such as the zoo, while others do not.

“These differences in early childhood experiences are reflected in the results that we see in the kindergarten assessments scores of our children as they start out in elementary school,” said an ODE report on the results.