• Pre-K programs graded

    Parents can see which schools gave students best chance for success in initial year.

    October 21, 2007|By Marc Freeman Staff Writer                                                                                 

    The Kindergarten Readiness Rate is a report card of sorts, so Florida parents can learn more about a preschool's performance.

    A Boca Raton Montessori School celebrated earning the maximum amount of points for its voluntary pre-kindergarten program, based on a new state rating system.

    Owner Claudia Calderon said her school's 300 point rating, announced in June, showed that her students challenged themselves and got the best preparation for elementary school.

    They help each other; they teach each other," Calderon said, noting that some of the children entered her preschool program with "no notion of the letter A.". "We were starting from scratch," she said.                                                                                         

    The Kindergarten Readiness Rate is a report card of sorts, so Florida parents can learn more about a preschool's performance.

    At a Boca Raton Montessori School, 1540 NW 15th Vista, about 50 children are enrolled this year. In montessori programs, students typically are placed in multiage classrooms and move at their own pace through hands on lesson.

    Calderon, who also serves as the lead teacher, welcomes the state oversight and enjoys serving as a state provider. "It is nice to know someone is recognizing how we are doing." she said. "We were starting from scratch," she said.  

    The Kindergarten Readiness Rate is a report card of sorts, so  Florida parents can learn more about a preschool's performance.

    The state's free, voluntary pre-kindergarten program started in the 2005-06 school year with a budget of $387 million. It took more than a year for officials to settle on a grading system for participating public and private preschools.

    Ratings are based on children's performance on three screening measures, such as early reading skills, during the first 30 days of kindergarten.

    Officials match each kindergarten student's screening scores to where they attended voluntary pre-K, said Warren Eldridge, executive director of the Palm Beach County Early Learning Coalition.

    In voluntary pre-K, parents can select from a 540-hour program in the regular school year - typically three hours of instruction a day - or a 300-hour summer program. It's optional but available to 4- and 5-year-old children leading up to the start of kindergarten.

    A state analysis of the first year's rating data shows that children who participated in the pre-K program performed better on the kindergarten readiness tests than children who did not participate in the program.

    Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg called it "a powerful tool that provides children with a firm foundation for increased success through their academic career."

    The Kindergarten Readiness Rate established a minimum level for whether a preschool scored satisfactory. On the 300-point scale, providers must earn 201 or higher to be satisfactory.

    Of 3,772 voluntary pre-K providers across the state, 3,216 of them scored above the minimum rate during the 2005-06 school year.

    In Palm Beach County, 177 providers were rated satisfactory, out of 210 providers that received a rating for the regular year or summer sessions.

    Thirty-three providers were put on low-performing status for having 200 points or less. These include eight public elementary schools or facilities: Belle Glade; C.O. Taylor/Kirklane, Palm Springs; Delray Full Service Center; Forest Park, Boynton Beach; Lincoln, Riviera Beach; Starlight Cove, Lantana; West Riviera; and Wynnebrook, west of West Palm Beach.

    School district administrators responded by making the curriculum more rigorous and providing more training for teachers.

    Twenty-four other preschools did not receive a rating, because not enough students were screened or too few students completed enough of the program.

    In all, 6,644 children were enrolled in voluntary pre-K at public and private preschools across the county.

    Preschools branded as low performing for three straight years will no longer be allowed to participate in the program. They also were required to submit improvement plans in August.

    But the provider ratings don't take into account the skill levels of the children prior to entering the pre-K classes, Eldridge said.

    "Some schools may have made the decision to serve students with the greatest need," he said. "We really need to be able to measure how much progress the child makes when the child is in the program. A facility could have had a remarkable year, but the child still may not be ready for school."


    How they rate

    Parents can research a provider's rating by visiting the state's Web site: www.vpk.fldoe.org. More information about the program can be found at www.fldoe.org/earlylearning/. Of 210 providers, these Palm Beach County voluntary pre-K providers received the highest ratings on a scale of up to 300 points for the 2005-06 school year and summer sessions:

    A Boca Raton Montessori School : Boca Raton, 300

    A Hi-Tech Academy : Jupiter, 300

    Center for Early Learning at Palm Beach Community College: Lake Worth; 300

    Florida Atlantic University Research Center: Boca Raton, 300

    Good Samaritan Medical Center: West Palm Beach, 300

    Torah Tots Academy : Boca Raton: 300

    Boca Raton Christian School : Boca Raton, 293

    Jupiter Academy : Jupiter: 293

    Levant Academy Learning Center, Jupiter: 290

    Shepherd's Care Preschool : West Palm Beach: 290

    Marc Freeman can be reached at mjfreeman@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6642.