Treasure Coast's voluntary pre-kindergarten providers low-performing, says report

About 25 of the Treasure Coast’s voluntary pre-kindergarten providers are considered low-performing, with fewer than 70 percent of their children ready to start school, according to the state’s Office of Early Learning.

Readiness rates of the state’s VPK providers released this month are based on assessments that kindergarten children take within the first month of school. Rates range from 0 if no child scores ready to learn to 100 if all children in a program score high enough.

Low-performing providers are placed on probation and must submit a corrective action plan. Providers considered low-performing for three consecutive years risk being barred from being a provider for five years.

VPK is a free state program for 4-year-olds designed to prepare children for kindergarten. The state’s voters approved the program in 2002 by referendum.

Private and church child care centers as well as programs run by public schools can be eligible to offer the program at their facility. Hours of the individual program varies, depending on the provider.

Some schools offer a full school day VPK program, while child care providers may offer VPK as part of a wraparound care package. The state pays for a three-hour program during the school year. A summer VPK program also is offered.

Four of the 25 Treasure Coast providers currently are on probation for the second year. In St. Lucie, three former providers are in the midst of a five-year ban.

But Kimberley Smith, resource specialist with the St. Lucie County Early Learning Coalition, which oversees the St. Lucie providers, said parents shouldn’t judge a provider or preschool only on its state readiness rate.

“The numbers do not always represent the school,” Smith said.

Ask for a tour, Smith said. Talk with the center’s operators to determine if the center meets their child’s needs, she said.

“Ask them why the score is low, and what the provider is doing about it,” Smith said.

Scores can be misleading, she said. Children who succeeded in the program but attended a private kindergarten may not be assessed, so their scores wouldn’t be reflected in the provider’s rate, Smith said. Scores of children with limited English or with learning disabilities also could cause a readiness rate to go down, she said.

“These scores are based on many things that may be beyond the provider’s control,” Smith said.

A low-performing provider’s must include either a DOE-approved curriculum or provisions for staff training, said Tara Huls, bureau chief for the Office of Early Learning in Tallahassee. Regional Early Learning Coalitions work with the providers to implement the action plan.

“There are some that improve,” Huls said.

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