- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

All-day kindergarten classes in Montgomery County have helped poor children catch up with their higher-performing peers, according to a study released yesterday.
The study of Montgomery's 2-year-old program, encompassing 16,000 students, showed test scores rose at schools with high levels of low-income students. Middle class students at those schools, meanwhile, either matched or outperformed their peers in schools elsewhere in the county, contrary to expectations.
"We are getting some emerging success," said Superintendent Jerry D. Weast. "We're learning that you can attack poverty, that you don't have to have low expectations just because a child is poor."
But the county study found students who don't speak English were an exception, prompting Mr. Weast to propose intensive phonics instruction at schools with the most children living in poverty.
The findings come at a time when the General Assembly has mandated full-day kindergarten for all Maryland schools as part of a new state aid formula. Montgomery's "kindergarten initiative" combines the longer day with smaller class sizes, a revised curriculum and teacher training.
The initiative began in 17 of the poorest schools in 2000 with 17 more added in the fall of 2001. This year, 22 schools have been added.
County and national studies find many of the achievement gaps between races and income groups start in kindergarten and widen throughout the following years.
Mr. Weast said the program, implemented in high-poverty schools, could be a model for schools across the nation dealing with that achievement gap.
The Montgomery report found the gap between higher-scoring whites and Asian students and their black and Latino peers had narrowed by as much as 11 points on some measures.
Children living in poverty also were affected by full-day kindergarten, according to the study. In the 17 highest-poverty schools, 51 percent of the children considered poor enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidy met reading benchmarks by the end of first grade, and only 45 percent of poor children elsewhere in the county did.
However, reading scores for limited-English speakers dipped over two years. Some of their scores on a test last spring of oral language, hearing and associated sounds with letters were lower by half than their English-speaking classmates.

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