State Web site evaluates prekindergarten programs

Published May 16, 2007

Parents get lists of schools and centers to pick from when they sign up their 4-year-olds for the state's voluntary prekindergarten program.

They haven't received official guidance, though, on which providers are well suited to prepare the youngsters for kindergarten success.

Until now. The state released results Tuesday of how well every provider in the voter-mandated pre-K program did in getting the children ready for kindergarten. The searchable online database scores each center on a 300-point scale, based on its students' ability to perform a select set of skills, such as recognizing letters.

Kindergarten teachers evaluated students before the 30th day of the school year. The information was sent to the state, which tracked the results back to a child's provider.

The average school score across Florida is 239. Locally, the average rates in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties exceeded the state rate.

Those in the bottom 15 percent for two years will be deemed "low performing" and be subject to strict improvement plans. The state Board of Education is looking at labeling all schools below 200 as "low performing."

Locally, Hillsborough had 20 programs below 200. Pinellas had 12, Pasco had three and Hernando had one. Results for this year's students in voluntary prekindergarten programs should be available early in 2008.

State officials cautioned parents should not read too much into the numbers, which will be finalized next month, as they consider pre-K choices.

"This is just one piece of information ... that parents can use to make decisions of where they want their children to spend time," said Shan Goff, director of the Education Department's early education office. "It's a snapshot in time."

Leaders of area coalitions that oversee the pre-K program had their warnings, too. They noted the results are 2 years old - the children evaluated are now finishing kindergarten this week and next.

They also said the numbers don't necessarily differentiate between how well a child did and how well the school served students.

Part of the problem is the readiness rates do not reflect progress, as the children were not evaluated at the beginning of the pre-K year.

"If we measured the progress of the kids, we might be seeing quite a different story," said Dave McGerald, executive director of the Hillsborough Early Learning Coalition.

Despite the caveats, the leaders remained pleased overall with the program and the providers.

"We have always been at 85 to 87 percent of our children being school-ready," said Janet Chapman, executive director of the Pinellas Early Learning Coalition.

She said the county has some exceptional providers, and she expected to call upon them to offer advice to those that had lesser results.

Faith Academy Daycare in Largo is one where all the children met all the state measures. Director Joyce Lopedito attributed much of the success to the school's teacher, Anne Ryder, who moved the children well ahead of minimal state standards.

"At the end of the year, she did teach the children how to start reading sight words," Lopedito said. "They were reading simple books."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.