The state’s kindergarten readiness rates show that 39 percent of Sarasota providers didn’t meet the threshold, and 58 percent of Manatee providers missed the mark.
The latest Kindergarten Readiness Rates — used to indicate the quality of each of the state’s Voluntary PreKindergarten providers — released by the state are far lower than in past years, with more than double the percentage of providers statewide failing to meet the minimum threshold compared to previous years. Officials blamed the drop on a new test and more rigorous standards for the performance decline.
The rates were released Monday for the first time since the 2012–13 VPK year.
“We expect performance to improve in future years,” Office of Early Learning spokeswoman Elizabeth Moya said in a statement. “This year’s rates serve three purposes. They set a starting point from which we can set higher expectations, they enable the Office of Early Learning to pinpoint programs that need additional support, and they provide parents with information to help them make critical education decisions for their children.”
Each VPK provider’s score was based on how well their former students did on a computer-based state test, administered during the first 30 days of kindergarten.
According to the results, 43 percent of providers in Florida did not meet the minimum threshold, compared with 22 percent in 2013. For the latest scores, which correspond to the 2016-17 VPK year, providers needed to have at least 60 percent of their “alumni” score 500 or higher on the 900-point Star Early Literacy test.
Sarasota County outperformed the state average, with 39 percent of providers not meeting the standard. In Manatee, 58 percent of the VPK providers did not meet the standard.
In 2012-13, 21 percent of Sarasota providers did not meet the minimum threshold, and 28 percent of providers in Manatee did not meet the standard, according to OEL data.
Although the percentage of providers not meeting the minimum has nearly doubled since 2013, providers will not be placed on probation for this year’s or next year’s scores, as providers are allowed time to adjust to the new standards.
Janet Kahn, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota, said more rigorous math standards on the test also are a significant factor behind the lower scores.
“There have always been standards for ages zero to 5, but they were updated to reflect more areas related to math — areas that really needed to be beefed up,” Kahn said.
The math standards include several skills normally associated with kindergarten — VPK children are expected to count to 31; to be able to say which is less, more or equal when comparing sets of up to 10 objects; and to recognize and identify circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles. The new standards have not yet been implemented into VPK curriculum, so students who take the kindergarten readiness test this fall will be assessed on skills they were not taught, which is why the OEL will not put providers on probation for low scores next year as well.
While Florida has risen to second in the nation for VPK participation, the total number of VPK providers statewide has dropped 3 percent, from 6,776 in 2013 to 6,556 last year, according to OEL data. During that same time period, the number of children under the age of 4 increased by 5 percent, according to data from Kids Count.
Several providers with a majority of Spanish-speaking children in Manatee and Sarasota told the Herald-Tribune that they had dropped out of the program because the assessment does not take into account how much the children progressed during their year in VPK.
“I haven’t had VPK in years. I am not going to sign the contract,” said Carina Piovera, owner and director of My First Steps in Bradenton, adding that 70 percent of the children there “are Spanish speaking, so my scores were very low.”
The rollout of a new test and standards always mean scores will be low the first year or so, said Manatee deputy superintendent for instruction Cynthia Saunders, who compared the current situation to the state’s transition from the FCAT test to the FSA for K–12 state testing in 2015.
By the numbers:
*VPK providers with fewer than four children completing the program were not given a rating.
This story comes from a partnership between the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and the Herald-Tribune, funded by The Patterson Foundation, to cover school readiness, attendance, summer learning, healthy readers and parent engagement. Read more stories at https://www.gradelevelreadingsuncoast.net/category/solutions-journalism-partnership/.