The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday February 8th

Experts discuss improving early education

North Carolina is taking its first steps to improve elementary education as part of a national push to better teach children at younger ages.

State education experts, including seven representatives from UNC-CH, met at Duke University on Friday to begin discussing more effective ways of measuring elementary students’ progress.

The meeting kicked off a six-month research process that will culminate in a plan for education and testing between kindergarten and third grade, said Kenneth Dodge, director of Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy and co-chairman of the group, which calls itself a think tank.

Dodge said the N.C. General Assembly passed a law last year requiring the state to reassess children’s education and establish an early learning test by 2014-15.

President Barack Obama has also recently advocated for the importance of improving early education programs to better prepare students.

Obama has set a goal for the country to have a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020, but the state is not yet on track to do that, Dodge said.

“Earlier intervention will help younger cohorts of children start on track to graduate,” Dodge said.

The think tank is developing a test that will guide instruction, said John Pruette, co-chairman of the think tank and director of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Early Learning.

The test will go beyond literacy and math competency and also focus on health, physical, social and emotional development, he said.

Dodge said children come to kindergarten with vastly different skill levels, and the assessments will enable teachers to develop individualized lesson plans.

“We collectively want to assess children very early in life, develop interventions and education programs for them, and have them reading on grade level by the third grade,” Dodge said.

Dodge said a task force will be formed in August to create the test and distribute it across the state.

Pruette expressed optimism about the final result.

“Overall, we would hope that we could create an instrument that would be useful to teachers that would impact instructional practice in a positive manner and benefit children across the early grade continuum,” he said.

Obama spoke about the importance of preschool programs in preparing children in a speech Thursday.

“Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she is down the road,” he said.

Dodge said the president’s call is consistent with brain development research.

“We are passing up wonderful opportunities to shape, develop and mold a brain if we wait until children are five or older to begin that formal education,” Dodge said.

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