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April 07, 2008

Raising Pre-K Standards Part II

Recently I wrote about the proposed revisions to the Texas Pre-K Guidelines. The Texas Education Agency has posted the proposed revisions on its website for the public to view and comment on until April 15th. Be forewarned though, the document is a lengthy read totaling 115 pages in its entirety!

The good news: most of what is being proposed is both appropriate and achievable. A few of the revisions, such as “Centers should have certain basic equipment and an ever-changing variety of materials to intrigue the children,” seem a bit utopian given their dependence on funding. Overall though, I'm extremely pleased.

For the most part, the proposed changes are realistic and provide plenty of research to support the provided recommendations. In my opinion, the standards have been raised sufficiently while still managing to maintain the integrity of pre-k programs. I have outlined some of the high points of the revised guidelines below.

Full Day Pre-K: This year's revisions included a well-known fact, in the early education community, some pre-kindergarten programs out there are full-day (page 25)!  Most public pre-k programs are half-day, but as a full-day pre-k teacher myself, it was important to me that we were finally acknowledged as a part of the early childhood education community.  Notable progress included:

  • Providing a sample schedule for a full-day classroom
  • Suggestions regarding the recommended number of read alouds per day: 3 for full-day programs, 2 for half-day programs

Physical Space, an area previously neglected in earlier reports that is sorely in need of being addressed, included guidelines on how classrooms should be set up and organized. Suggestions provided were:

  • Traffic patterns
  • Materials placed within children's reach
  • Organized storage
  • Adequate equipment and supplies
  • Clearly defined areas
  • Centers
  • Small and large group areas

Parental Involvement is a crucial part of any successful pre-k program because parents are a child’s first teacher. Among the highlights:

  • Informing parents about what their children should learn in pre-k
  • Keeping parents informed about their children’s progress
  • Giving parents specific ideas about how they can help out at home
  • Using home visits, teacher conferences, and parent training classes to keep parents informed

Assessment: I found the section on assessment very interesting and timely.  It states, “Children with mental, physical, or emotional difficulties that may require special services benefit greatly from early detection and diagnosis. For such children, diagnostic assessments can be very helpful.”

We are currently struggling with an increase of pre-k students who need special services on my campus. However, since we provide no screening services before school begins and are not required by law to do so, it is a tremendous undertaking trying to get students the proper services needed to maximize their success in the classroom. The process is so long and arduous, it often takes until kindergarten for our students to be identified, tested, and to begin receiving services.

Literacy: The literacy section was right on target including helpful examples of the different stages of writing. The requirements for alphabet knowledge have increased from “identifies 10 letters” to:

  • Recognizes all letters when named by someone else
  • Child names all upper and lowercase letters
  • Child recognizes 10 letter sounds

Math: While I’m a little leery of the changes to the math section, I'm certainly willing to give them a try.  With a little extra effort and music, I'm sure both my students and I can meet these new challenges.  Interesting additions included:

  • Oral counting to 30
  • Addition word problems to 5
  • Subtraction word problems to 5

Science was one area that was beefed up considerably with new additions including teaching 4 year olds about the solar system and energy.  Other notable concepts mentioned:

  • Energy (light, heat, electricity)
  • Organisms
  • Life cycles
  • Earth materials (rocks, soil, etc.)
  • Sky (sun, planets, etc.)
  • Weather

Sadly, these are only “guidelines,” and pre-k programs in Texas are not required by law to follow them. I have already identified several areas that I can predict with some certainty my district won’t be persuaded to follow, such as the diagnostic assessment piece.  Any diagnostic tests would have to be administered in the student's native language - a real challenge when you have as many languages spoken as we do in our district.  In addition, increased testing and earlier diagnosis would likely result in overcrowding within special ed classrooms.

While the new Texas Pre-K Guidelines are both child-centered and developmentally appropriate, many districts in Texas - including my own - do not have a dedicated person in charge of pre-k program curriculum and delivery.  If the guidelines were mandated, it would benefit all pre-k programs in our state by ensuring the existence of developmentally appropriate standards for all early childhood education instruction.

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