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New Learning Standards for Chicago Schools Kindergartners
Chicago school educators were surprised during their teacher training session in mid-September by the state’s new learning standards for kindergarten students. Previously, Illinois was one of 11 states that did not have learning standards for kindergarten. The state adopted standards for grades 1-12 in 1997 and even has specific “early learning” standards for preschoolers.
Setting academic goals for kindergarten students was not a priority because kindergarten attendance is not required in Illinois. Yet every school district in the state, including schools in Chicago, offers at least a half-day kindergarten program. In the 2004-2005 school year, 146,000 children attended a full- or half-day kindergarten program, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
The state began developing the standards a few years ago in response to numerous requests from kindergarten teachers, many of them in Chicago schools. They take a lot of the pressure off of kindergarten teachers in Chicago schools, who previously had to develop their own learning standards. The new standards eliminate the academic inconsistency that existed across the state, even between kindergarten classes in Chicago schools.
The only downside is for Chicago teachers with half-day kindergarten programs. Many wonder if they can teach everything in a short time. Shelby King, a consultant who helped develop the standards, thinks it’s possible. They simply won’t be able to teach at the same leisurely pace as full-day programs.
The new standards are only guidelines for schools to use and are a mix of educational and practical life skills, learned in a fun and carefree environment. They go beyond the usual basic reading and math skills, adding skills such as:
o Phonics (being able to pronounce three-letter words with two consonants and a vowel, such as the word “cat”), reading one-syllable and heavy-duty words, knowing all upper and lower case letters of the alphabet under the artistic standards language;
o Count from one to 100; understand the concepts of more, less and equal; and solve basic mathematical problems according to mathematical standards;
o Be able to describe the effects of natural forces, such as wind, gravity and magnetism according to scientific standards;
o Fingerpainting, Play-Doh sculptures, dancing and familiarity with musical instruments fall under fine art standards; and
o Physical development and health standards include items such as:
o Ways to prevent the spread of disease, such as covering your mouth when coughing and washing your hands;
o Social and emotional development by learning to explore, share and work with others; and
o Ethical, safety and societal factors in decision-making, such as understanding that it is wrong to hurt others.
Chicago school teachers hail new state standards. Chicago school officials hope they will help students in Chicago schools do better on state-mandated tests later in elementary school.
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