Good start for gifted kinders

Assessed … Tommy Pepper, 5, with his sister Chloe, 3.
Assessed … Tommy Pepper, 5, with his sister Chloe, 3. Photo: James Alcock

One in six children starting school in NSW has the numeracy skills expected of a year 1 student, prompting the Education Department to develop a gifted and talented resource package for kindergarten teachers.

The 65,000 children who started kindergarten in the state's public schools this year are having their literacy and numeracy skills assessed under the government's Best Start Assessment program.

Parents will be advised of their child's performance this term, and teachers will use the results to tailor their program to the individual needs of the students.

According to statewide results obtained by Fairfax Media, 16 per cent of children who started school in 2011 demonstrated the numeracy skills of a student entering year 1, which includes being able to count to at least 30 and represent numbers up to 20 in pictures, words, objects and numerals.

''The expectation that by the end of the kindergarten year, students can make connections between the number names, numerals and quantities up to 10 would be a low expectation for at least half the students in NSW public schools,'' said Peter Gould, who developed the numeracy component of the Best Start Assessment.

At the other end of the spectrum, 6 per cent of kindergarten children failed to meet level one numeracy standards in 2011.

The department said statewide results for the literacy component of the Best Start assessment, introduced in 2010, had not been collated.

But in a submission to the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the education of gifted and talented students, the NSW department said the Best Start program ''has revealed many students are starting school already achieving beyond kindergarten outcomes''.

As a result, the department said it has developed a ''Best Start Gifted and Talented Kindergarten Resource Package'' to identify and extend young gifted learners.


A Charles Sturt University education professor, Bob Perry, said the 2011 Best Start numeracy results tallied with his own research.

He has been testing the numeracy skills of children at the end of pre-school, and has found about one in six already know what is due to be taught to them in kindergarten.

''It suggests they don't have anything to learn in kindergarten,'' Professor Perry said.

It is unclear whether an improvement in early childhood education services, the fact 20 per cent of children are starting school a year later than eligible, or parents working with their children on numbers, are leading to students having advanced numeracy skills.

''A number of factors contribute to the levels of knowledge and thinking young children possess before starting school, including their social development and their prior-to-school experiences,'' a spokesman for the department said.

Professor Perry said it was impossible to tell whether today's children were arriving at school with more knowledge than those of previous generations.

What the data shows ''is there's a bunch of kids coming into school who need to have something special done for them'', he said.

The department intends to match the NAPLAN results of this year's year 3 cohort with their Best Start results from 2010 to gauge the ''predictive value'' of the Best Start tests.

Tommy's test

Tommy Pepper completed his Best Start Assessment the week before he officially started   at Randwick Public School. His mother, Eugenie, said Tommy was ‘‘hysterical’’ when they  arrived for the test, but bounded out after the assessment saying he’d had ‘‘so much fun’’.

‘‘It was like what I do with Susan [his day-care teacher],’’ Tommy told his mother, as he showed her a fish on a stick he had made.

Although the Peppers won’t receive their son’s Best Start results until week 8 of term,  Ms Pepper said the teacher told her Tommy did ‘‘really well’’.

Ms Pepper thinks the assessment is a good idea.  ‘‘It checks where  the kids are at, and possibly will pick up the kids who are going to need more attention, or who will need a little more support.’’

From: The Sydney Morning Herald