First aired on Metro Morning (04/06/13)
A recent study by Ontario's Education and Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) states that one in three kindergarten students entered Grade 1 "at risk" or "vulnerable" in their reading and writing, and many will still be behind in Grade 3. It also found that students whose reading skills were high tended to have a higher rate of success in school by Grade 3. Metro Morning contacted Annie Kidder, executive director of the advocacy group People for Education, for her thoughts on the study.
Kidder pointed out that in fact the kindergarten students were not being tested on reading and writing, but rather on a number of characteristics measured by the Early Development Instrument. "Really what they're looking at are all the ways that kids are developing, which is different from measuring reading and writing skills," she said. "They measure physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication and general knowledge. " What these measures indicate is "their readiness to learn," rather than reading and writing ability. She added that to compare those scores with a Grade 3 reading test "may be a little bit of comparing apples and oranges."
When asked how worried parents should be about the study's finding that kindergarten students who were deemed vulnerable on the basis of the development index were still behind in Grade 3, Kidder said that the emphasis should be "on those things that we're looking at in the Early Development Instrument," adding that this doesn't necessarily mean working at developing reading skills. "Let's work very, very hard on the things that are measured there, like social competence, emotional maturity, communication and general knowledge. Because the kids who score high on those things, by the time they get to Grade 3, are much more likely to meet the standard in Grade 3."
The EQAO study took place before full-day kindergarten was implemented in Ontario, but according to Kidder, the results are a good indication of what direction should be taken.
"Where we go wrong is thinking that the purpose of all-day kindergarten is to get scores up in Grade 3," she said. "By measuring education narrowly we end up defining education narrowly." All-day kindergarten isn't about learning to read earlier, said Kidder. "It's actually all based on play-based learning. It is based on these sorts of, I don't know if you can call them skills, maybe competencies, that are measured in the Early Development Instrument."
In all-day kindergarten, the emphasis is on building social skills like the ability to communicate and collaborate. "That's what they're working on in kindergarten. Hopefully, that will begin to show results, especially if we start measuring more things than just reading, writing and math as kids get older."