The Puyallup School District decided not to wait until 2017-18 to implement state goals for full-day kindergarten. The full-day schedule began being phased in during the 2013-14 school year at Firgrove, Spinning, and Stewart elementary schools. In the fall of 2014 Puyallup went to full-day kindergarten districtwide.
Two years later, the significant improvements made by full-day kindergarten students in reading, writing, and social skills indicate an encouraging long-term return on investment.
Brouillet Elementary Principal Nancy Strobel has been tracking the gains in academic success for the first- and second-year classes of full-day kindergartners at Brouillet. She plans to follow these students’ scores as they advance to the next grade level.
Strobel presented data showing academic gains to the Puyallup School Board last May. There is consistent districtwide growth in the reading proficiency of kindergartners. The data indicates the growth is sustained as students advance from kindergarten to first grade.
“High achieving kids is not the whole story —
the story is really full-day kindergarten.” - Brouillet Principal Nancy Strobel
The Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) test is used to measure early reading proficiency. It includes several different early reading skills including knowledge of letter sounds and all of the pre-reading basic building blocks.
In 2014 only 24 percent of Brouillet kindergartners met the Washington Learning Standards for literacy at the end of the school year. Two years later, in the spring of 2016, 80 percent of kindergartners met the standard. Schools districtwide are showing similar results. Strobel reported DIBELS is a consistent measurement that has been used for many years so it is easy to compare current scores against the past.
“When you look at the gains over two years it’s just striking. It is such a positive change and you can see that we are really closing the gap in the number of students showing proficiency. More of the kids are able to meet that end of the year standard,” said Strobel.
Longtime Puyallup kindergarten teacher Joni Boyle has found the increased reading proficiency also affects other subjects. “What I didn’t take into account was the extra time I would have integrating reading into all my other subject areas throughout the day. Our full-day kindergartners are certainly stronger and more confident readers than those in our half-day programs. I am delighted that our time spent on math, writing, and science are positively impacting student scores as well. Today, I have a stronger, consistent, and more comprehensive math program building solid skills. My kindergartners are also able to spend more time in the writing process and are more confident early writers,” said Boyle.
When students receive twice as much instruction they are able to meet the marks much sooner. Teachers are able to focus intervention efforts on a smaller percentage of students who are struggling and need the extra instruction. Early intervention is critical for students who require additional instruction when they begin school.
The National Education Association (NEA) recognizes that full-day kindergarten programs close achievement gaps between young children from minority and low-income families and their peers. By providing a solid foundation of learning to children from all backgrounds, full-day kindergarten programs ensure that all students experience academic, social, and emotional success.
Boyle believes the full-day program is better rounded by supporting the growth of physical, intellectual, social, and emotional areas. Kindergartners now have more time for outdoor play, physical education, the arts, science, and centers where children can make choices and learn through specially designed play activities and improve social skills. These are best practices for young learners and are positively impacting the growth of the whole child.
“We had gotten so academically driven and that can be a challenge for little kids working so hard. Now they have the opportunity to play. The piece that little kids need — play and explore and do all those things that five and six year olds are designed to do. We are able to support those needs too. We didn’t have that luxury in the past and it is very valuable for kids,” said Strobel.
At Brouillet and across the district teaching teams from each grade level meet regularly to look at classroom based measurements such as counting, writing numbers, and how students progress through the reading curriculum. It is a way for teachers to compare and see how each student is progressing. This aligns with district professional development goals to ‘improve the capacity of staff to serve the learning needs of students.’
With full-day kindergarten Boyle has the opportunity to work with four other teachers who bring amazing strengths, creative ideas, and a love for teaching young children. “We evaluate data together, set academic goals, and work as a team to help all kindergartners meet those goals. When something is not working, we change it. When it is working, we celebrate the growth. As a team we are beyond proud of the academic gains our full day students are making.”
Strobel said when she and the teachers reviewed scores from the first year of full-day kindergarten they wondered if the class might have an extraordinarily high achieving group of students. “We just kept setting higher goals. Teachers kept saying, ‘this a really high group of kids.’ I wondered if that was true. Now, we have two years with pretty similar results. High achieving kids is not the whole story — the story is really full-day kindergarten,” said Strobel.
The data Strobel has collected is tied into districtwide efforts called Response to Intervention (RTI) which focuses on trying to help each and every student meet required standards. It shows that a gap exists in proficiency when students begin kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten allows teachers more instruction time to help individual students progress and close the gap.
Strobel will continue to monitor new data to see if the student proficiency growth is maintained as the first full-day kindergarten cohort is now in second grade. She plans to keep tracking to see if the gains continue over time as the students advance in grades.
In the meantime, kindergarten teachers will continue to teach more content on a deeper level to build understanding of skills in all academic areas.
“At the end of the year our full-day
kindergartners are definitely more
prepared for first grade”
- Brouillet Kindergarten Teacher Joni Boyle