With the start of a new school year comes the first pages of a new chapter in the lives of 50,000 Kentuckians. It is a time for them to begin laying the foundation for a lifetime of exploration, learning and achievement.
Those 50,000 Kentuckians are the new kindergartners who enter the Commonwealth’s schools each year. While each of those children has the opportunity to achieve great things in their school careers, the truth is that about half of them won’t be fully prepared to succeed.
Every child entering kindergarten in Kentucky is screened for several developmental milestones, such as can they sort and classify objects, can they count up to 30, do they know their full name and do they show curiosity about the world around them. This assessment – known as the Kindergarten Screener – determines whether a child is what we commonly refer to as “school ready.” School readiness means a child is ready to engage in and benefit from early learning experiences that best promote the child’s success. Knowing whether children are ready to learn when they enter school helps educators better serve students and also helps parents gauge their child’s strengths and weaknesses.
School district leaders can take advantage of a new Superintendent School Readiness Toolbox on the Kentucky Department of Education website, which gives detailed information on how to work with families, early childhood providers, and community partners to increase kindergarten readiness. The toolbox also provides examples of districts that have created successful programs.
While having this information is helpful, it is only one component of Kentucky’s vision and commitment to provide more young children with the high quality early learning experiences that are critical to their K-12 success. Parents also need to know if the early care programs they place their children in are the high-quality programs those children need.
That’s where Kentucky’s new ALL STARS program comes in.
Piloting this year with statewide implementation targeted for 2016, Kentucky All STARS will expand and enhance the state’s current quality rating system for early care and education programs. It will rate public school preschools, Head Start and private programs on a five-star scale. The rating system will compare quality across different programs and will help families identify the highest quality early care and education programs available to them. The program also will establish standards for classroom and instructional quality, administrative and leadership practices, staff qualifications and professional learning, and family and community engagement.
The goal of Kentucky All STARS is for all of the Commonwealth’s children to have access to high-quality early care and education programs and for all programs to aspire to be high quality. All early care and education programs eventually will display their STAR rating so families will have an objective way to decide which program is best for their child.
Kentucky All STARS will replace a voluntary rating system for early childcare and development programs. While helpful in improving early childhood education, only 40 percent of eligible programs participated in the program and the standards themselves often were confusing for parents. The new system is intended to be as easy to understand and as visible as a rating from the health department for a restaurant. Every parent should be able to easily assess the quality of their child’s care.
While parents will be receiving help in understanding the quality of their child’s care, those care programs also will be receiving help to improve their service to the state’s youngest children through professional development, coaching and other supports.
Kentucky has made great strides toward ensuring all children have the chance to reach their full potential through a high-quality education, but that goal requires a long-term commitment on behalf of our youngest residents.
Kevin C. Brown, Associate Commissioner and General Counsel for the Kentucky Department of Education, is the interim commissioner of education.