By TAYA FLORES, Capital News Service
BALTIMORE - Though Maryland kindergartners are better prepared to start elementary school than in previous years, a significant number still lag behind, a study presented by the state department of education said Tuesday.
"This is the first building block and if they continue with those deficiencies it's going to impact them all the way through,'' said state superintendent, Nancy S. Grasmick.
Initiated by legislative action in 2000, the annual Maryland State Department of Education study measures how students meet state expectations of what kindergartners should know.
In 2001 slightly less than half pupils were prepared for kindergarten, while 51 percent were not. But in the 2006 survey presented Tuesday, the percentage of prepared students rose to 67 percent, while 33 percent still lagged.
Rolf Grafwallner, assistant state superintendent for the division of early childhood development, said that students lag for multiple reasons, including learning disabilities, limited English-proficiency and living in dysfunctional families.
For example, the gap between the percentage of children with learning disabilities and those without disabilities who were prepared to enter elementary school widened between 2001 and 2006, even though percentages for both groups increased.
Likewise, the gap also widened between children for whom English is not their native language and native-speakers.
But not all the disparities increased. The gap between African American students and whites has narrowed significantly since 2001.
Grasmick said that the study is important because it helps teachers target the children who need help in the classroom.
"We know exactly who they are and where they are and that's what is going to help those children as they go through the system,'' she said.
Grafwallner said that students have improved in meeting kindergarten performance goals for a number of reasons. One reason is that more parents are becoming aware of the importance of early education centers such as pre-kindergarten programs and day care programs.
"Parents have gained an understanding of the importance of early childhood education and are now more careful in where they place their children than in the past,'' he said.
The study shows that children who are placed in formal child care centers such as pre-kindergarten programs, Head Start, child care centers and non-public nursery schools before starting kindergarten are better prepared to learn the material in kindergarten than children who were at home or in family child care.
Grafwallner said that placing children in early childhood development programs helps better prepare them for their academic futures. "There are better chances that children do well,'' he said. "It's an investment.''