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Many Washington kids not ready for Kindergarten

Casey Doyle's class at Oakville Elementary School is participating in the state's pilot kindergarten assessment
Casey Doyle's class at Oakville Elementary School is participating in the state's pilot kindergarten assessment

Nearly a third of children in Washington don’t appear to be ready for kindergarten.  And more than half aren’t likely to have necessary language skills.  The findings come from the state’s first attempt to assess some of its youngest students.

The assessment, called WaKIDS, includes evaluations of four domains:

  • physical, well-being, health and motor
  • social and emotional
  • cognitive and general knowledge
  • language, communication, and literacy

The state expects kids to be proficient in those areas when they get to kindergarten. Teachers look at things such as whether children know how to tell the difference between letters and numbers or use a fork and spoon.  The assessment also includes meetings with parents and childcare providers. 
Officials say they’re alarmed by how many kids fall short. Bob Hamilton, deputy director of the state’s department of early learning, is managing the project as a joint effort with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).  He says he doesn't think anyone would've predicted the results.

“The standards are not severe and I would say the standards are fair," says Hamilton. "So, it was eye opening to us to see so many of the children not fully proficient in one or more of the domains."

Until this year, no one at the state level had a way to see how kids are doing until 3rd grade standardized tests.  Sure, individual teachers evaluate students, but each school or district uses its own criteria. So the state couldn’t make ‘apples to apples’ comparisons.

Only 5% of the state’s kindergartners are taking part in the new assessment, but Hamilton says they represent the rest of the little ones - and a very big problem.   

"If children are entering the world of school not ready for it, they will struggle to right themselves. The sooner you get to issues like this, the less detrimental they are."

Hamilton says the assessment will help officials target resources and interventions where they’re needed most.  Right now, it's just a pilot project. 

The goal is to expand it to all full-time kindergarten classes in the next two years.  It would cost the state roughly $800,000 dollars a year, unless private funders step up.  The first round of assessments has been paid for largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.