published Friday, September 5th, 2014

Test helps tell if 4-year-old is ready for a Hamilton County public school kindergarten

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Can your 4-year-old child rhyme two words? Take turns in conversation? Stand on one foot? Hold a pencil correctly? Walk in a straight line for 8 feet along a curb, balance beam or strip of tape?

The more of those skills children have, the better they'll do in kindergarten, says Shawn Kurrelmeier-Lee, Hamilton County's chief reading officer.

Kurrelmeier-Lee helped develop the kindergarten screening test that's been given for the last three years to every student who enters a Hamilton County public school. The test is a joint venture of the Hamilton County Department of Education and Read 20, a county government-funded effort to promote reading. It takes teachers about 20 minutes to do the screening, which measures kids' social and motor skills and students' abilities to think, speak and understand.

"All the kindergarten teachers use it," Kurrelmeier-Lee says. "It takes very little time. It's consistent for every child. That's the power of it -- it's consistent."

Schools use the test results in different ways, she says. For example, some teachers and principals group kindergarteners with similar abilities.

And schools give the test at different times. Some wait until the school year starts. Others, such as the Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts (CSLA), give the kindergarten screening during a summer ice cream social so parents can work on their kids' weak points before school starts.

"We have a meeting with the parents right after we screen," says CSLA kindergarten teacher Jamie Behler, who helped develop the screening test.

Most kids at CSLA, a magnet school on East Brainerd Road, have mastered many skills on the kindergarten assessment. Their biggest stumbling point is fine motor skills, such as holding a pencil correctly -- not in a fist.

"At this age, the fine motor skills are tough," Behler says.

Children who have gone to preschool or daycare, she says, tend to do better on the screening's social skills.

"Waiting in a line, knowing how to share, learning how to sit in a group and listen, knowing the teacher is not there for just you," Behler says.

The school district has a database of kindergarten test results it can analyze.

"Kindergarten is where students really start to read," Hamilton County Director of Literacy Becky Coleman says in a statement. "We are using data from Read 20's kindergarten screening tool to help us assess what students know and don't know so that we can target our instruction to the needs of students."

Being able to tie your own shoes isn't a key skill anymore for kindergartners, Kurrelmeier-Lee says. Velcro has made less important than it used to be.

"I raised my kids 25 years ago, and they tied shoes back then," she says.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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