As always, when a state test indicates kids are failing, parents have to wonder whether the problem is the test or the program. Now the focus is on the Voluntary Prekindergarten program. (VPK). Over forty percent of children who were enrolled in VPK do not meet the new STAR readiness standards for kindergarten. Once again, the stakes are high. Early learning providers can be placed on probation if fewer than 60% of children enrolled do not meet the state standard established for the new STAR kindergarten readiness test.
The new readiness test has higher standards than the previous one, so a drop in kindergarten readiness rates is no surprise. Back in 2012, Florida OPPAGA reported that 72.9% of VPK children were ready for kindergarten and now only 40%??.
There is a lot we do not know about the quality of VPK programs. The VPK program only provides funding for 540 hours of instruction for children…about 1/2 time during the school year and 300 hours in the summer. So, programs may offer VPK in the morning and just daycare in the afternoon. Lead teachers must be at least 18 years old have post secondary course work in early childhood education. Is this adequate to meet state standards?
We do know that the kindergarten standards have gone up, and in usual Florida style, the funding has gone down. We also know that about 25% of eligible children, mostly from low-income families, do not attend a VPK program at all.
At issue is more than the results of a test. Test scores go up if teachers teach to the test. Children can spout facts and reproduce simply defined skills if enough time is spent on drill and practice. As many of us know, however, memorizing words and facts does not an essay make. Spouting facts and skills does not produce critical thinking and problem solving. Naming tools does not equate to the ability to make things or do things. Fixing that problem with a test and high stakes consequences for failure makes a bad problem worse. Knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge and think critically about the result is what is required for a strong educational system. The legislature needs to put this into practice. Test and punish philosophies just do not work.