3:55 p.m. PDT September 15, 2016
More than 3,150 kids started kindergarten in Salem-Keizer schools Wednesday, the second group of 5- and 6-year-olds to attend all-day classes.
How did that extra instructional time influence the district’s first all-day kindergartners?
From Laura Janssen’s perspective, it’s had a big impact.
Janssen, a first-grade teacher at Yoshikai Elementary School in Salem, said she can tell the difference in this year’s first-graders.
“It’s only been five days (since school started for first-graders)… but I have noticed a difference,” she said.
She and other teachers at the school agreed last year’s kindergartners were much more prepared for first grade because of full-day kindergarten.
Janssen, 48, said that on the first day of school she typically asks students to cut in a straight line; many students are unable to do so, resulting in some tears and upset students.
But this year, all students were able to cut with ease.
“I thought, ‘Wow, there may be something to this,” she said.
As the days progressed, Janssen started to notice more improvement.
On the whole, she said, more students could read and write more and do simple math — like drawing their numbers and doing basic addition — better.
Janssen has 24 students in her class. Typically, 10-15 students score low on the start-of-the-year reading, writing and math assessments.
This year, only one did. She said 16 of her 24 students are performing at or above grade level.
“We’re pretty impressed,” she said.
When evaluating math, Janssen said, often the students struggle. However, this year, more students got most, if not all, the questions right.
“That’s unheard of,” she said.
The push for full-day kindergarten in Oregon formally began in 2009 when it was presented to the Oregon Senate. It got the go-ahead last year when the Legislature passed an education budget that included funding for all-day kindergarten.
The nearly $7.4 billion budget agreement took place just two months into the 2015 legislative session, the earliest an education budget has been passed in more than 20 years. It included $200 million for full-day kindergarten.
Proponents of all-day kindergarten said the additional instructional time is beneficial for many reasons, including higher long-term achievement, particularly for disadvantaged and low-income children; higher reading scores in early grades; higher test scores; and greater progress in social skills.
Denise Roberts, a kindergarten teacher at Yoshikai, said before full-day kindergarten there was a choice of either time to play and make friends, or have the academics of school. With full-day kindergarten, she said, children get both.
“It’s a nice spot to be in,” she said.
Additionally, she said, before, things like physical education, music, and trips to the library were among the things kindergartners saw as “what big kids did.” Now, they get to do them as well.
“We’re giving the kids time to transition and allow them to be kids,” said Kathleen Karakey, another kindergarten teacher at Yoshikai.
Janssen said from what she’s seen the students are generally more prepared for class — the classroom environment isn’t nearly as much of a shock for them as it has been in years past.
“They seem more ready to get down to business,” she said. “Hopefully the students will progress farther than in the past since they are coming in with more skills.”