Photo: Pre-K students playing with blocks

Nearly Half of Florida's Children Are Not Ready for Kindergarten

Posted on May 19, 2019 by Anna Bryson, Herald-Tribune Media Group

Gov. DeSantis directs the Florida Department of Education to prioritize the issue

Kindergarten readiness scores decreased again this year, prompting Gov. Ron Desantis to criticize the “failure rate” and call for more funding.

Last year, about 36% of children who attended Florida’s Voluntary PreKindergarten Education Program were not ready for kindergarten, according to data released by the Florida Department of Education on Wednesday. For the 2017-2018 school year, that number jumped to 42%.

“A 42% failure rate is simply not defendable and certainly not good enough for Florida’s youngest learners,” Desantis said in a statement. “I have asked Commissioner Corcoran to prioritize this issue and direct available funding to make enhancements. Nearly three-quarters of Florida parents rely on VPK programs to lay the academic and social foundation necessary for their children to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.”

The overall score, which includes children who did not attend VPK, showed that 47% of students were not ready for kindergarten, a slight increase over last year’s 46%. Children take the kindergarten readiness assessment during the first month of kindergarten, and their scores are linked to wherever they attended VPK.

Florida’s VPK program has the second-highest enrollment rate in the country, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research. However, Florida’s per-child spending is near the bottom.

Despite criticisms of the effectiveness of the test, the scores come with serious consequences. Beginning with the release of the 2018-2019 school year results, providers that do not meet the minimum readiness rate of 60% will be subject to probation until the provider meets the minimum readiness rate. Because the test is less than two years old, providers were held harmless for the results for 2016-17 and 2017-18.

In Sarasota County, about half of VPK providers missed the 60% threshold; 51% in Manatee County, 80% in DeSoto County, and 41% in Charlotte County failed to meet the minimum readiness rate.

Beginning next year, if a provider is on probation for three or more years without a good cause exemption, it will become ineligible to offer the VPK program.

“It’s not acceptable for any child not to be ready for school, and we want our providers to have the resources necessary to do that,” said Janet Kahn, executive director of the Early Learning Coalition of Sarasota County. Kahn points out the downfalls of the test, including the fact that it doesn’t reflect any of the progression of children throughout VPK who may have started very behind.

Some educators claim that 5-year-olds are not familiar enough with how to use a computer mouse to navigate the test. Among other criticisms are that the test does not measure growth and is administered three months after children complete VPK.

Last year, a petition calling on Gov. Rick Scott to overhaul the way VPK providers are assessed was created by Natalie Williams, the principal of Chesterbrook Academy in Broward County and the provider representative on the Broward County Early Learning Coalition. She said frustrations over the test have galvanized the VPK community, and many educators agreed that the current testing schedule did a disservice to providers.

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

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