Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for September 13, 2006

From the Chicago Tribune...

Academic goals ... for kindergartners

For first time, state outlines standards

By Diane Rado
Tribune staff reporter

The state of Illinois wants kindergartners to finger-paint.

It also wants them to spend time on "phonemic awareness"--that is, sounding out words like "cat" and " hat"--along with solving basic math problems, dancing and covering their mouths when they cough.

The state's first comprehensive standards for kindergartners, unveiled Tuesday, are a mixture of the educational and practical, meant to maintain a fun and carefree environment while ensuring students get the academic preparation and life skills they need for the years ahead.

Kindergartners will be expected to go beyond the basics of reading and math--from learning about foreign cultures to describing the effects of forces of nature such as wind, gravity and magnetism as part of the science standards.

Although their parents may never have had to learn to read in kindergarten, Illinois kindergartners will be expected to read at least one-syllable words as well as "high-frequency" words that often show up in books.

Children also will be expected to know all capital and lowercase letters of the alphabet as part of new language arts standards, and be able to sound out three-letter words that blend two consonants with a vowel, such as cat and hat.

In math, children will be expected to count from 1 to 100 and understand the concepts of more, less and equal, among other skills.

The new standards are not mandatory--districts will use them as guidelines and kids won't have to take a grueling exit test. But officials hope a tighter curriculum will help children perform better on state-mandated tests later in elementary school.

This is the first time Illinois has cemented what kindergartners should learn before they enter 1st grade. Specific state standards were adopted in 1997 for Grades 1 through 12.

The state even has specific "early learning" standards for children in preschool, but until Tuesday Illinois was among at least 11 states in the nation that did not have specific kindergarten standards, according to a 2005 survey by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.

"The teachers were just begging for them," said Joyce Davidson, coordinator for kindergarten programs in Chicago Public Schools.

Kindergarten, like the other grades, always fell under the state's broad goals and learning standards for students. But unlike the other grades, kindergarten was left out when the state provided crucial details--called benchmarks and descriptors--that guide teachers on precisely what children should learn. "They just overlooked it," Davidson said.

For example, one of the state's broad social science learning standards is to understand and explain the basic principles of the United States government.

But what does that mean for a kindergarten student? The state never explained--until Tuesday.

Now, one way a student can meet the standard is by identifying an American flag on a field trip.

Educators say specific kindergarten standards likely weren't in place because Illinois doesn't require that children attend kindergarten. But educators estimate that the vast majority of children attend kindergarten.

School districts at least offer half-day programs, and some146,000 children attended full or half-day programs in 2004-05, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

With kindergarten teachers clamoring for specific standards, the state Board of Education began developing them several years ago.

Tuesday, in a day celebrated as "Kindergarten Day," the finished product was unveiled at teacher-training sessions around the state.

About 35 educators gathered in the regional education office in Chicago Heights to get an overview of the new standards.

Kindergarten teacher Judy Jamrisko of Tinley Park-based Community Consolidated School District 146 welcomed the new standards, saying they will take pressure off teachers to come up with their own standards. That has led to a hodgepodge of curriculums around the state for kindergartners.

But Jamrisko also said it will be a challenge for her to teach all of the new standards in the half-day kindergarten program in her district-- a concern echoed by other educators.

Shelby King, a State Board of Education consultant who helped write the standards, said she believes half-day programs can fit in all the standards, though full-day programs would allow a more leisurely pace for children.

Overall, the new standards are meant to maintain the kind of atmosphere that many parents might remember in kindergarten. Traditional activities such as finger-painting and using Play-Doh are included in the fine arts standards, as well as exploring the elements of dance by participating in a "group movement experience" and becoming familiar with musical instruments.

"We want the classroom to be fun for kids," King said.

The physical development and health standards include learning ways to prevent common illnesses, such as covering the nose when sneezing and washing hands.

Social and emotional development will be important.

"You still learn by exploring and sharing and working with other people," Davidson said.

Children will learn "ethical, safety, and societal factors in making decisions."

For kindergartners, that translates into an age-old concept: understanding that hurting others is wrong.

From the Pantagraph...

Teachers pleased with new guidelines

By Phyllis Coulter

NORMAL -- The newly unveiled Illinois Early Learning Standards for Kindergarten were warmly received by teachers, education administrators said Tuesday.

"These standards being unveiled today have been well-researched and are well-supported by frontline early childhood educators," state schools Superintendent Randy Dunn said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday. "This is another major step forward as we continue to emphasize our long-term investment in early childhood education."

Kindergarten teachers who filled out evaluation forms at a workshop Tuesday indicated they were pleased with the new standards and the training, said Mark Jontry, assistant regional superintendent in the Regional Office of Education for DeWitt, Livingston and McLean counties.

He said 40 public and private school kindergarten teachers from the three-county area attended workshops Tuesday in Normal. More workshops are set for October in Normal.

The standards were created collaboratively with the Illinois State Board of Education and kindergarten teachers throughout the state, starting in 2002.

More than 500 teachers and administrators statewide took part in the pilot tests and evaluations as the standards evolved, said Jodi Scott, assistant regional superintendent for Henderson, Mercer and Warren counties.

"It validates what kindergarten teachers are already doing," said Scott.

Previously kindergarten teachers followed more general standards that applied to early learners, including first- through third-graders.