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Education Dept. at work on pre-K grading plans

Superintendent of Education John White (File) Superintendent of Education John White (File)
Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Superintendent of Education John White has delayed plans to give his recommendations for grading Louisiana's fragmented system of publicly funded prekindergarten and early childhood education programs.

White was expected to discuss the performance standard framework with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next week. But he said Wednesday he's pushing that back until the board's December meeting because he wants more time to meet with people and work on the plans.

"We've had a very open and collaborative process on the development of this, and it was clear some of our leading partners wanted to have more discussion before we have a discussion with BESE," White said.

A new law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and passed by lawmakers earlier this year required the development of a common assessment and grading system for early childhood programs that are scattered across agencies. It is to be fully phased in by the 2015-16 school year.

A plan is due to lawmakers by March 1.

Some of the programs are backed with state dollars and others with federal cash. The patchwork of programs is not tracked and scored like in public schools, which receive letter grades based on student performance.

White said $1.4 billion in federal and state money is spent every year in Louisiana on early childhood programs, with widely differing results. He said the current system is unacceptable and the state needs a uniform standard of quality.

"When we invest public dollars, are we getting kids who are truly prepared?" he said.

But the programs span public schools and private day care centers, involving infants to 5-year-olds.

White said his department is wrestling with questions of how to assess academic progress for young children of different ages and what sorts of consequences should be attached to the standards. He said he's unsure if his proposal will involve giving a letter grade to every facility with public funds.

"Assessing 4-year-olds and their readiness for kindergarten is very different from assessing the development of a 2-year-old," he said.

By the end of the month, White said he hopes to put out a "conceptual framework" for public comment. He's been holding forums around the state to speak with child care providers and educators.

The discussions have raised concerns.

Wyatt Graves, president of the Childcare Association of Louisiana, said private child care providers that receive public funding have stringent licensing standards that don't apply to the public schools that run early childhood education programs.

He said private operators want to make sure that streamlined regulations are applied equitably across public and privately-run programs and don't set up competition for staff and students with public schools with different regulations.

"We want the industry to be overhauled. It needs to be overhauled. But there needs to be equitable standards for all programs," he said.

Graves said day care centers have invested thousands of dollars into making improvements associated with a quality rating system enacted by the state only a few years ago and worry those dollars will have been wasted and won't help with the new regulations.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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