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Children get a head start with alphabet Skills: Kindergarten assessments in Howard County are showing that students are benefiting from earlier exposure to reading.


Paul Walker, a kindergarten student at Hollifield Station Elementary School in Ellicott City, takes a seat in a tiny blue chair and aims his "pointer finger" at an alphabet sheet. At the %J direction of reading specialist Paula Silverstein, he begins to identify letters.

"That's great," says Silverstein. "Now use that pointer again and show me that in lowercase."

Paul's performance -- except for a stumble over the lowercase "q" -- is virtually flawless. He isn't ready to describe the sounds of individual letters, but Silverstein says that is normal for his age.

Many of the kindergarten students who were being assessed for their reading skills recently at the Howard County school are ahead of their counterparts from 15 years ago, Silverstein says.

That's because more children are being exposed to reading earlier through preschool programs, educators say. Many come to kindergarten having exposure to books and to the alphabet.

"When I was a kindergarten teacher 15 years ago, that would not be the norm," Silverstein says of Paul's alphabet knowledge. "According to our assessments, we definitely have three or four readers at this moment."

"A lot of our kids are coming in with that preschool experience," says Principal Glenn Heisey. "It's scary to think of 5-years-old as late. It really is, in this day and age, getting to be late if they haven't had some [reading] exposure."

Kindergarten assessments, which take place at the beginning and end of the school year, cover reading and math and are designed to provide schools with basic information to tailor their instruction to each child's needs. Heisey says the school will recheck the 74 kindergartners' progress every quarter.

The reading assessment begins with uppercase and lowercase letter recognition before moving on to consonant sounds -- the "duh" sound of the letter "d," for example -- and word identification. While some of the kindergartners are reading, others struggle to identify letters.

Silverstein says schools avoid labeling the children according to their reading ability. "They progress at such different paces that you can't pigeonhole them in one group," she says.

Besides aptitude, interest is a key factor. If a child is a slow reader but interested in dinosaurs, he or she might step up reading skills to take in books about the subject, Silverstein says.

After Paul rejoins his classmates in Jenny Weigel's classroom, Silverstein works with Doris Park, a kindergarten student whose first language is Korean. Pointing at the alphabet sheet with her right index finger and swinging her small legs under the table, Doris rattles off most of her letters with ease.

"It just depends on the background of the child," Silverstein says, expressing surprise, after Doris returned to class, at how well she had done. "She just blew me away."

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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