New Learning Standards For Chicago Schools Kindergartners
Chicago schools educators were surprised during their teacher training session in mid-September with new state 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 one through 12 in 1997 and even have specific "early learning" standards for preschoolers.
Setting academic goals for kindergarten students was not a priority, since attending kindergarten is not required in Illinois. Yet, all school districts across the state, including the Chicago schools, offer at least a half-day kindergarten program. In the school year 2004-2005, 146,000 children attended either 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 many requests from kindergarten teachers, including many in the Chicago schools. They take a lot of pressure off the Chicago schools kindergarten teachers, who previously had to develop their own learning standards. The new standards eliminate the academic inconsistency that existed across the state, even between Chicago schools kindergarten classrooms.
The only downside is for Chicago schools teachers with half-day kindergarten programs. Many wonder if they can teach everything within the short time. Shelby King, a consultant who helped to develop the standards, believe they can. They just will not be able to teach at the same leisurely pace as the full-day programs.
The new standards are only guidelines for schools to use and are a mixture of educational and practical life skills, learned in a fun and carefree environment. They go beyond the usual basic reading and math skills, adding such skills as:
Phonics (being able to sound out three-letter words with two consonants and a vowel, such as the word "cat"), reading one-syllable and high-use words, knowing all capital and lowercase letters of the alphabet under the language arts standards;
Counting from one to 100; understand the concepts of more, less and equal; and solving basic math problems under the math standards;
Being able to describe the effects of forces of nature, such as wind, gravity and magnetism under the science standards;
Finger painting, Play-Doh sculptures, dance and familiarity with musical instruments are under the fine arts standards; and
The Physcial development and health standards include such things as:
o Ways to prevent spreading illness, such as covering your mouth when you cough and washing hands;
o Social and emotional development by learning to explore, share and work with others; and
o Ethical, safety and societal factors in making decisions, such as understanding that hurting others is wrong.
The Chicago schools teachers welcome the new state standards. Chicago schools officials hope they will assist Chicago schools students to perform better on state-mandated tests later during elementary school.