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Manatee sees rise in Pre-K achievement

MANATEE — The achievement level of students who attended Manatee County’s voluntary pre-school program last year improved, reflecting a better job by the agencies providing the programs, state numbers show.

Of the county’s 116 voluntary pre-kindergarten providers, 74, or 64 percent, were rated as moderate-to-high performing providers, according to kindergarten readiness scores released by the state Department of Education this week.

Only 13 — or 11 percent — were rated as low performers. The remaining 29 were not rated because either some of the children did not complete the program or too few were screened.

The numbers are an improvement from 2007-08 when 18 percent were rated as low-performing providers. Manatee County’s 11 percent also beat out the 2008-09 statewide low-performing average of 13.5 percent.

“We’ve had a dramatic decrease of low-performing providers in Manatee County and I’m extremely proud of the work that has been done by the coalition and our providers,” said Paul Sharff, chief executive officer of the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County, the nonprofit organization that oversees the legislative-mandated program created to prepare every 4-year-old for kindergarten. “With our providers’ help, I think this year, if we can continue to work at it, we can do even better.”

The decrease in low-performing providers is praised by parents and educators, who say it proves the six-year-old state-funded program is working.

Readiness rates are determined by student screenings given by teachers during the first 30 days of kindergarten. They are rated on a 200-point scale based on how well their students performed in alphabet recognition, sound recognition and classroom readiness.

The average statewide readiness rate for the 2008-09 year was 163.

In previous years, including the 2007-08 school year, providers were graded on a 300-point scale. But state officials made scoring changes for the 2008-09 school year because officials wanted to see how well kindergartners could sound out words and added the measure to the kindergarten screening test.

Of the 13 low-performing Manatee VPK providers, Children’s Academy of Southwest Florida South netted the lowest score with 113. Oneco Child Development Center came in with the second lowest score at 114.

The remaining low performers are A+ Growing Academy, Children First at Braden Avenue, Education Time, Grandma Jones Learning Center, Happy Go Lucky, Learning With Love, Little People’s Place, MCCA Head Start High School at Manatee, Mind and Body Children’s Academy, Daughtrey Elementary and Tiny Tots University.

The 74 that performed well included six with perfect scores: A Readiness Learning Academy, Creative Kids, Jump Start Preschool of the Arts, Kids Plus Preschool Inc., Primrose School at Lakewood Ranch and Braden River Elementary.

High-performer reaction

Kristy Laine’s 4-year-old Kennedy attends Readiness Learning Academy on State Road 70 in Bradenton and chalked the school’s score up to special physical curriculum provided there.

“They’re not sitting down with worksheets, it’s active learning through lots of creative playful activities they come up with,” said Laine, who is a school psychologist in the Sarasota County School District. “People need to know VPK is important because they learn those basic skills like letter and number identification.”

She also said it helps youngsters learn how to interact with peers in a school setting.

“It means a lot to me that we had a perfect score,” said Peggy Sammons, owner of Creative Kids on 75th Street Northwest.

She chalked their rating up to a group effort between teachers and administrators.

“It’s also very parent-oriented here and I’m a very hands-on owner who is here all the time,” she said. “When you get a perfect score it’s a great thing, but unfortunately some of the providers are not always in a good social economic area to receive those high scores. There’s a lot of schools who have non-English speaking children and those things aren’t taken into consideration with the rates.”

Sharff said ELC staff will help those providers create a corrective action plan.

“We will give them any assistance available and give them assets such as personnel and recommended curriculum,” he said.

Providers can offer VPK during the summer months or during the school year. Parents have the option of sending their child to a public or private provider, whose requirements include holding a child-care license and a contract with ELC.

Of the 116 Manatee providers, 21 are public providers. The public provider with the highest score of 200 was Braden River Elementary.

Daughtrey Elementary, who ran a summer program, was named the district’s only low-performing provider with a rate of 126.

Coincidently, during the previous 2007-08 year, Daughtrey was not a low-performing provider. That year it scored 217 out of 300.

The public school with the highest jump from 2007-08 to 2008-09 was Blackburn Elementary. During 2007-08, it was a low performing provider with a rate of 150 out of 300, but its rate jumped to 170 out of 200 in 2008-09.

“We’ve very happy the scores are up and what this shows is VPK works, not just in public schools, but in the mom-and-dad places that have programs,” said Gary Holbrook, VPK spokesman for the school district.

Steps to improvement

Low-performing providers cannot continue to provide VPK if an improvement plan is not submitted to the state and approved, said Tom Butler, press secretary for the state Department of Education.

Improvement plans must be submitted within 30 days of the provider being notified of its low rate. If a provider’s plan is disapproved, an amended plan must be submitted.

At Oneco Child Development Center on 53rd Avenue East in Bradenton, administrators are disappointed that the school is a low-performing provider, but say they have a plan to improve this year’s score.

“We have added a new curriculum to our program,” said Amy Hollenbeck, the center’s manager. “It involved all the categories of learning and was used at a center that improved its score (from the 2007-08 year to the 2008-09 year) and did really well.”