Assessment shows 3 out of 5 not ready for kindergarten.
According to Mono County First 5 Executive Director Molly DesBaillets, a recent assessment of 63 percent of Mammoth’s incoming kindergarten and TK class revealed that 59 percent of students were “not ready” for entrance into kindergarten during Fiscal Year 2013-14. Countywide, the number was 58%.
This is in spite of the non-profit’s best efforts to prepare pre-K children for kindergarten, part of its overall mission to improve family functioning, child development, and child health County-wide.
DesBaillets reported First 5’s findings at the Nov. 5 Town Council meeting, noting that First 5 switched its assessment test from FY 2012-13 to 2013-14, which she believed yielded a more accurate—and higher—percentage of children not ready for kindergarten.
“The previous year, FY 12-13, 46 percent were found not ready in Mammoth Unified School District,” DesBaillets said. However, she added, “The last test didn’t give an actual score; it just asked teachers if they felt students were ready for kindergarten.
“The threshold that the test creators establish is intended to help educators identify when children are at need for special help,” she explained. Children answer a series of questions during a 15-minute screening assessment process; the “not ready” verdict comes from a number of factors, including physical, language, academic and cognitive ability.
Of the 58 percent assessed “not ready” County-wide, 67 percent were below average in academic and cognitive ability, while 66 percent were below average in language, DesBaillets said.
Below average language ability likely had little to do with a language barrier for Spanish speakers, she said. “In Mammoth, Spanish speakers are screened in Spanish, so I do not see that as a contributing factor,” DesBaillets said. “There are many contributing factors to language development in early childhood … Exposure to language rich environments is extremely important for the developing brain. Both home and child care contribute to the number of words spoken to a child by the time they reach kindergarten.”
DesBaillets theorized that children up to age 5 in Mono County are hurting in particular for lack of preschool opportunities, which would give them access to language rich environments.
“We only have preschool slots in Mammoth for about 50 percent of incoming kids,” she said. “The ramifications for a child’s entire academic career are really that they start off not ready and have to catch up over the whole academic year.”
DesBaillets expressed overall dismay with the assessment test results.
“This is a hard thing after having implemented school readiness programs for 15 years, to see that they [readiness scores] are not getting better,” she said.
However, she added, this is a problem First 5 can’t solve alone.
“I think more preschools would be a help, but they’re not easy to come by,” DesBaillets said. She noted a 10-year-in-the-making childhood early development center in Mammoth that would add two preschool classrooms “and greatly address that need.” However, with a price tag of $6 million, funding remains hard to come by.
In the meantime, DesBaillets pointed out simple things families can do, including reading with their children; spending time playing with their children; and quizzing their children on numbers and ABC’s.
First 5 will also continue to offer programs like a home visiting series, in which home visitors teach parents what sorts of activities would benefit their child in preparation for kindergarten, and “peapod” play groups, which give children a chance to socialize and practice language skills.
DesBaillets said First 5 also offers professional development for childcare providers, which would also go toward creating more preschool opportunities for children.
Finally, she noted that FY 10-11 saw only 34 percent of children assessed as “not ready.” One of her goals, she said, will be “trying to figure out what everybody did right in 10-11.”