Two years ago, the Lake Washington School District started a small experiment to see if it could help struggling kindergarten students catch up with their peers.
It was based on a common-sense idea: To improve, the kindergartners needed more time at school.
Kelly Pease, the district’s director of intervention programs, realized that students who were the furthest behind often were the ones who attended only a half day of kindergarten. That’s likely because many of their parents couldn’t afford the full-day programs that Lake Washington, like many school districts, offers for a fee.
Half-day programs, which the state funds, are free.
So district leaders decided to offer those students the chance to attend a free program for the second half of the day, designed specifically for them.
They started with about 40 students at five schools. Students attended regular half-day kindergarten, then moved to classes with no more than 15 students, where teachers provided intensive instruction in literacy and math.
The results have been so promising that the district added the program at four more schools last school year, and will open it in two more this fall.
Consider this year’s results: Last fall, 53 kindergartners enrolled in the new program, called the Kindergarten Intensive Safety Net. When tested on beginning reading skills, only five were at grade level, with 11 were below and 37 well below.
By the end of the year, the district reported that all but six caught up, ready to enter first grade on par with the rest of their class.
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The district isn’t declaring success yet. Pease said district officials plan to follow these students over time, to see if they continue to stay at grade level.
Pease also is comparing their progress to a control group of students who would have qualified for the new program but didn’t enroll or didn’t attend a school that offered it.
This year, the district also started a new four-week summer program that students from the kindergarten intensive were invited to attend to further bolster their skills.