52% of kindergarteners in Md. judged `fully ready'

State report is aimed at improving programs

March 26, 2003|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

A bare majority of Maryland's 54,000 kindergarten pupils last fall were "fully ready" for the experience, and children from minority and low-income families were far behind at 4 and 5 years of age, according to a report released yesterday by the State Department of Education.

Assessed by their teachers in November, after two months of classroom observations, 52 percent of Maryland children new to kindergarten were judged "fully ready," 41 percent were "approaching readiness," and 7 percent were far behind, the report said. The number of children in the fully prepared category increased by 3 percentage points over a similar survey in 2001.

"We're making considerable progress, but the gaps in race and income are worrisome," said Rolf Grafwallner, chief of the department's early learning programs.

The report shows children in private nursery schools are best prepared for kindergarten, followed by those who attend formal pre-kindergarten programs, child care centers and Head Start, the federal government's preschool program for children in poverty.

Head Start is up for federal reauthorization this year, and President Bush has recommended adding academic elements, including the training of the nation's 50,000 Head Start teachers in reading techniques.

Grafwallner said two Maryland districts, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, excelled in the Head Start readiness assessment. Both, he said, integrate Head Start with public school programs, and require Head Start teachers to be certified.

Statewide, 71 percent of children who attended nursery school were fully ready for kindergarten last fall. "Money is what it's about," said Dunbar Brooks, a state school board member. "These are nonpublic nurseries. Most of their parents are affluent. We've got to put more into programs for those who don't have the resources. It's not just that `no child is left behind.' It's how they come to us at the beginning."

Last year and in 2001, the report found a gap of 18 percentage points between the kindergarten readiness of children from poor and middle-income homes. And while the percentage of fully prepared African-American and white children increased from 2001 to last year, the gap between the two groups was also 18 percentage points.

Maryland is the only state to conduct an assessment, which is intended to help parents and preschool educators improve programs. It is conducted in November, after teachers have had several weeks to observe children's social and personal development and their level of understanding of language, math, science and social studies.

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