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January 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Math struggles start even before kindergarten, state says

Don’t just worry about the old math — or the new math. Or whether students use calculators, or don’t have them.

New data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) suggests that the state’s math problem starts before children line up for their first day of kindergarten.

Courtesy Washington OSPI

Courtesy Washington OSPI

For the second year in a row, kindergarten teachers in hundreds of schools observed their students and rated their school-readiness skills — everything from how well they hold a pencil to whether they recognize letters and can count to 10.

Three-quarters of those kindergarteners were deemed school-ready in five areas: social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive and literacy.

But in math? Only a little over half had the desired skills.

The observations were done as part of a program called WaKIDS, short for the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills. Along with the assessment, the program includes one-on-one meetings between parents and teachers, along with conversations between preschool educators and elementary school teachers.

To do the assessment, teachers this fall observed roughly 38,500 kindergarteners — about 44 percent of all incoming public school students. And while that’s not a representative group (WaKIDS is now given mostly in higher poverty schools), the math results still stood out.

“Math skills are lagging as early as the first weeks of kindergarten,” said  Kathe Taylor of OSPI. “So the trends that we see later on through the upper grades — they didn’t just happen.”

The results also varied by ethnicity. Less than half of Latino, Pacific Islander and Native American students arrived in kindergarten with the kindergarten-ready math skills.

For those in the early education field, the new numbers aren’t surprising.  Students arrive in Head Start and ECEAP programs behind, too, said Katy Warren, deputy director of a nonprofit representing those early education providers.

Many child care providers are asking for more training in math, Warren said.

Her organization hopes to provide more math and science training this spring, and is also working with early educators in California to train a cadre of early education math coaches.

Parents obviously can play a role, too. Even simple steps can help, said Taylor.

When you walk upstairs with a young child, count each step, she said. When you put three cans of soup in the grocery cart, ask your child how many cans you’re buying.

“We don’t have to have parents who have degrees in math,” she said. “We just have to have parents who think, ‘Oh, we can talk about numbers, we can talk about quantity, we can talk about measurement.’ ”

Taylor stressed that the WaKIDS assessment is just one part of WaKIDS, and even that assessment looks at the whole child — rating social and physical skills as well as academic ones.

“We understand they’re all connected,” she said.

Full results for the WaKIDS assessment can be found here. The state also has produced a summary. More information about WaKIDs is here.

A list of what teachers are looking for in incoming kindergartens can be found here in English, and here in Spanish.

Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: early learning, kindergarten, math

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