From KIP Program Yields Incredible Results

KIP Program Yields Incredible Results

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By William L. Bainbridge

July 8, 2003

One can hardly pick up a newspaper, turn on the television, review a magazine, subscribe to a web portal or attend a social function without learning about the failings of our public schools and the suggestions of instant experts for reform. The research, however, on school improvement is clear: children need either additional time or resources to enhance the learning process. Empirical research has demonstrated that time, in the form of an extended school year or day, can make a difference. Likewise, resources covering a wide range of educational assets, including parents reading to their children, more qualified teachers, computers in the home, exposure to classical music, and stimulating learning exercises of many types have been proven effective in increasing students’ scores on standardized tests.

Most reform advocates focus on the resource component either by advocating better teacher training, parent involvement, vouchers, charter schools, high staff salaries, accountability measures, technological advances or program improvements. Recently, the Philadelphia (PA) school system was in the national spotlight for focusing on the time component. Superintendent Paul G. Vallas, who made his mark in Chicago, has enrolled over 30,000 students in the largest summer school in the City of Brotherly Love’s history. Test scores in this urban center, like others, are in the ditch, and Vallas is attempting to turn around the 200,000-student system by offering children additional support to improve achievement.

One need not focus on urban centers to see the impact of additional time on increasing learning, especially for young children. A recent meeting with Whitehall (OH) Superintendent Judyth Dobbert-Meloy and her chief academic officer, Susie J. Carr, yielded data to validate what researchers have been saying.

Shortly after Dobbert-Meloy’s arrival on the scene, the Whitehall Board of Education approved a limited all-day kindergarten program. Although there were some problems associated with concerns for budget, staffing and space, the district moved forward. In the fall of 2000, an appointed study team led by Carr collected data and assembled research to convince the Board and public that all-day kindergarten could make a difference. They were also charged with developing a program model.

The team’s interpretation of the research indicated that simply stretching the current kindergarten program out over a full day for all students might not make the positive differences they hoped to achieve. They did believe, after careful study, the research supported all-day programs for children who were identified at risk of educational failure.

Whitehall’s population includes many low socioeconomic students. District test scores revealed that 25% of the students were consistently not at grade level in terms of reading skills at the end of second grade. The answer was to develop a program of early intervention with the lowest performing students to see if a boost in literacy could be achieved. Whitehall’s model identifies students coming into kindergarten who are lagging in skill development in literacy and provides them with intensive intervention. The new model also includes more parent involvement and Friday reports helping parents and teachers understand each child’s progress. Parents, who provide the school with anecdotal data about the program’s effectiveness, are also given the opportunity to participate in hands-on instruction in the use of magnetic letters, small books and writing strategies.

The good news is: they were not only right, but they pulled it off by re-aligning federally-funded Title I personnel and literacy coordinators without spending additional dollars. SchoolMatch Chief Information Officer Kathy B. Bleimes, a Whitehall alumnus, said the data "was incredible," and Kathy, having examined school achievement data for over 15,000 school systems since 1985, is not easily impressed.

The Kindergarten Intervention Program (KIP) program in Whitehall not only closed the gap for the at-risk students, it eliminated the gap altogether based on two years’ data. Enrollees in the KIP program have demonstrated great gains in letter identification, hearing sounds in words and concepts about print, all key factors in the reading readiness process. When asked "Has the KIP program met the needs of your child?" 71% of parents said it was very helpful and 23% said it was mostly helpful. Parents say their children have made major improvements in letter recognition, reading and writing. Perhaps more importantly, they indicate children are excited to read, more interested in reading, like reading more, have more self-confidence and enjoy school more as a result of the KIP program.

Kudos to Whitehall Schools for implementing one of the research- based initiatives to improve schools.

William L. Bainbridge is Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Dayton and President and Chief Executive Officer of SchoolMatch, a Columbus-based educational auditing, research and data firm.

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