Small changes could be coming to the controversial Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten evaluation system.
Now the state is hoping to work toward making the results more fair.
WHAT VPK PROVIDERS SAY
VPK is a free program for ALL 4 year olds in the state of Florida.
It gives everyone the chance to help their child enter Kindergarten ready for success.
Patty Paige is one of hundreds of VPK providers upset with the evaluation system used to determine whether kids are kindergarten ready, and whether providers are doing their job.
She's considered to be on probation, because her students scored too low on a "Kindergarten Readiness" test they took three months after VPK ends.
"All through your school year, 1st grade, 2nd grade, college, you take a class and then you take the final right away. You don’t wait three months and come back and take the final," says Paige. She is the owner of Creative Montessori Academy.
Another issue, the test is also given on computers, when kids practice on paper.
"You are teaching them one way and then when they go to kindergarten, it’s done a different way," says Paige.
The test scores link back to the pre-school and are posted for the public to see.
According to the latest scores available, nearly half of all kids (45 percent) in Florida failed, which means they "aren't ready for kindergarten."
The latest available set of scores show 42 percent of the state's VPK providers are considered "below the threshold" (what would be considered probation) because of their scores. 47 percent of all providers in Palm Beach County "failed."
That includes Patty.
"Oh, I got 54 and 25. And I’ve been doing this for years. I know how to teach VPK. I’m a very good VPK teacher," says Paige.
Under VPK rules, Patty and all other VPK providers give their students assessments three times a year, on booklets.
The scores Patty sees with those assessments are drastically different than the final scores she's received. The assessment scores are much higher, in the 90s.
Right now, those 3 yearly assessment don't count in a teacher's evaluation. Under a new proposed rule, those assessments could now be counted in Patty's final score.
A bill to put the final test at the end of VPK school year, and on tablets, died in the legislature.
But the state Office of Early Learning says they are currently amending the rules surrounding readiness rates to help with some issues. The new readiness rates would count what they call "learning gains."
"I think what we know anecdotally is that often the children that come in that are most at risk, may not present as being ready for K on their scores, but they’ve made a lot of growth during the year," says Association of Early Learning Coalitions Executive Director Saralyn Grass.
Basically, kids would be measured based on what happened during the school year too.
VPK programs are made up of children who have been in early learning since they were 6 weeks old, children who are learning English as a 2nd language, children with diagnosed disabilities, etc. The VPK Assessment helps teachers determine where individual children are to work on specific skills to get them as ready as they can for Kindergarten. Therefore the learning gains over the VPK year range tremendously.
Test scores from the first and third VPK tests given during the year, (known as pre and post assessments), would be calculated into the score, along with the kindergarten readiness test results.
The hope is to make the scores more accurate.
"We know the majority of providers are trying their best to do a good job so we want to assist them in being able to demonstrate that," says Doctor Grass.
The proposed rule is just that. It needs to go through a workshop and public hearing process first. Then it would have to be approved by the State Board of Education.
VPK providers tell us it's definitely a step in the right direction, but they still think the readiness test should be given when VPK ends, not after summer break.
The Association of Early Learning Coalitions says it is also pushing to raise the amount of money VPK providers receive for each student.
For a lengthier explanation of the proposed learning gains evaluation rule, this is how the Office of Early Learning explained it.
"Based on the proposed rule, the readiness rates would be calculated by adding the percent of children ready for kindergarten, based on the Florida Kindergarten Readiness Screener (FLKRS), and the percent of children in the rate that made gains times 0.1. Gains are determined by performance on the VPK assessment administered during the VPK program. In order to make gains, a child must advance a scoring category or maintain the highest scoring category from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment in each of the four domains. A child can score below expectations, meeting expectations, and exceeding expectations in each of the domains tested. The domains are print knowledge, phonological awareness, mathematics and oral language/vocabulary. If a child scores exceeding expectations in the pre-assessment for a particular domain and maintains that score for the post-assessment, the child will be considered to have made learning gains for that domain."
Regarding probation, because of the low scores, the state says for the past 2 years, there has been no consequences for those who score under the threshold. They have been given 2 year grace period. The scores have been shared with the public, but they haven't been required to do any additional improvement plans or trainings, yet.