Using State Preschool Standards Appropriately
By Carolyn Tomlin, M.Ed.

As a beginning teacher of 5-year-olds, Miss Alice, was committed to make sure every child excelled in her class. “I know they can reach all the state standards—it’ll take extra work for some of the slower children, but with my help and that from parents, they all can achieve.”

In order to reach this goal, Miss Alice loaded these 5-year-olds down with “busy” work during the day—even sending work home at night. And some days they never enjoyed outdoor play. They were working on what’s important! When parents complained to the director, Miss Alice couldn’t understand why parents would object. “Don’t they want what’s best for their child?” she questioned.

In another preschool program, Mr. Allen, had worked with young children for years. Due to his popularity, every parent requested their child be placed in his room. Although children loved coming to the center and parents knew their children were happy, Mr. Allen’s program seemed, well…lacking in organization. “I try to make time for creativity and those spontaneous learning experiences that often occur,” says Allen. “For example, yesterday we went outdoors and watched a bulldozer work next to our fence. Of course, that wasn’t in my daily lesson plans, but I felt it was important.”

Parents agree, but express concern that the children have not mastered some of the early learning skills or standards needed for first grade.

Ann Singleton, Ed.D., Education Department, Union University says, “Standards are a goal to work for. Teachers in preschool and kindergarten programs should take into account every child in the classroom and realize that children develop at different stages. It’s unrealistic to expect all children to develop at the same rate.” Singleton believes that standards give teachers guidelines to strive for.  “Without these guidelines, how do we know the destination or how to get there? Standards are good, but we also must train teachers in the mental, social and emotional development of all children.”

Characteristics of Early Childhood
Childhood is such a brief period in life, yet a time for building a foundation for later years. States and other organizations must consider the characteristics of the young child as the standards movement reaches down to pre-K programs. Consider the following as you implement standards for your center.

• Setting standards for young children is difficult due to generalized expectations for their development and learning. Development varies and is dependent upon experiences (National Research Council, 2000).

• Numerous variables create greater challenges in assessing children’s progress in meeting standards or achieving desired results (Melsels, Atkins-Burnett, 2002).

• Younger children’s development is connected across developmental domains, with progress in one area being strongly influenced by others. This has implications for how standards are written and implemented. (Melsels, Atkins-Burnett, 2002).

• The family relationship and environment influence the young child’s development and learning. Development and implementation of early learning standards must therefore engage and support families as partners (Christenson, 1999).

• Young children are most culturally diverse. Many child care programs do not reflect culture or language in transitional settings. These discontinuities make it difficult to implement early learning standards in effective ways (Washington and Andrews, 1996).

• Programs for young children include an increasing number of children with disabilities and developmental delays. These must be of concern when states and organizations develop, implement, and assess progress in relation to early learning standards (Schmoker & Marzano, 1999).

• Settings for early childhood education prior to kindergarten differ in their sponsorship, resources, and organization. Attention to communication, coordination, consensus building and financing determine the effect of implementing standards.

Risk and Benefits of Early Learning Standards
Each state, and some professional organizations, develops their own pre-K standards that address curriculum, assessment, and accountability. NAEYC sees risks as well as benefits in the movement toward setting standards. Educators and politicians must take into account numerous factors when standards are developed and implemented in their state.

Michelle Arant, Ed.D. Director of the Special Education Institute, University of Tennessee at Martin says, “Standards can make a difference in programs for young children. Teachers have a guideline for developing curriculum, parents know what their child is expected to learn and children are entering kindergarten and first grade ready to master basic skills.”

According to a report from NAEYC, the major risk of any standards movement is that the responsibility for meeting the standards will be placed on children’s shoulders rather than on the shoulders of those who should provide opportunities and supports for learning (NAEYC, 2002).

What happens when a child fails to meet the standards? Are doors closed? Is the child retained in that grade for another year? Is the child labeled as a failure? Are they denied educational services? Educators recognize the fact that culturally and linguistically diverse children or those with disabilities, may be at heightened risk.

In spite of these cautions, past experience suggest that under the right conditions, standards can create measurable benefits for learning and development in pre-K programs.

However, standards must have support to be an effective way to measure student success. There is minimal benefit when there is minimal investment in professional development, high-quality assessment tools, program or school resources, and a well-financed educational system (Elmore, 2002).

Conclusion
Those who have dedicated their lives to children understand this fact: “Children’s play is their work. It is the way they learn best.” And if this is the way they learn best, make all their work play.” Too often teachers are so preoccupied with test scores, they fail to allow time for this vital part of developing the whole child.

Carolyn Ross Tomlin, M.Ed., Jackson, TN has been the director of a preschool program, taught kindergarten and served as Assistant Professor of Education, Union University. She writes for numerous educational publications.


Scientific Evidence Supports Investment in Pre-K Programs
Tennessee, like several other states has a volunteer pre-kindergarten program. Children who participate in a high-quality early childhood educational program:

• Arrive at school with better language skills and get along better with their peers;
• Are 40% less likely to need special education or be held back a grade; and
Are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and be employed.(www.tennessee.gov/)

 

“One thing is for certain, in order for all Americans to realize the American Dream, you’ve got to make sure every child has the necessary foundation to be good readers, good writers, good comprehenders –which means that this nation must do a better job of focusing our education strategy on early childhood development programs.”
 – President George W. Bush

“The road to success must include high quality pre-K for every preschooler.”
– Former North Carolina Governor, Jim Hunt

“The best way to maximize state dollars and help our children do better – the best thing to do is to invest in quality pre-K for every child in every community.”
– Former Georgia Senator, Zell Miller

“We need to work hard to help our youngest children arrive on the first day of kindergarten prepared to take advantage of what lies ahead. Across our state, there’s one think educators agree on: Tennessee needs a strong pre-K program.”
– Governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen

 

References
Bredekamp, S., Washington, V., & J.D. Andrews, Eds. (1998). Children of 2010. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Christenson,S. (1999). Families and schools: Rights, responsibilities, resources and relationships. In The transition to kindergarten, Eds. R.C. Planta & M.J. Cox, 143-77. Baltimore: Brookes.

Elmore, R. (2002). Bridging the gap between standards and achievement: Report on the imperative for professional development in education. Washington, DC: Albert Shanker Institute.

Melsels, S., & Atkins-Burnett, S. (2002). The elements of early childhood assessment. In Handbook of early childhood intervention, Eds. J.P. Shonkoff &  S.J. Melsels, 231-57. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  
National Research Council (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Eds. J.P. Shonkoff & D.A. Phillips. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  
Schmoker, M., & R.J. Marzano (1999). Realizing the promise of standards-based education. Educational Leadership 56 (6):17-21.

Interviews
Ann Singleton, Ed.D., Dept. of Education, Union University, Jackson, TN.

Michellle Arant, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Education, Director of Special Education Institute, University of Tennessee, Martin.