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Culver City Tests Kindergartners' Basic Skills : Aid Sought to Help Pupils Catch Up

June 05, 1986|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Half of the kindergartners at Linwood E. Howe Elementary School in Culver City are not ready to begin academic instruction, officials say, because they failed a basic skills test that included catching a ball, sorting blocks and walking a balance beam.

Culver City Unified School District officials released the findings of their fall screening of 90 kindergarten pupils in connection with the filing of an application for $5,000 in state funds to train teachers to identify and teach children ages 4 to 7 who have learning difficulties. About 45 pupils in the school's three kindergarten classes failed the test.

Funds for the program of "early intervention for school success" are provided by the state Department of Education under a law which took effect this year. The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Diane E. Watson (D-Culver City).

"We are not talking about children who don't know their colors," Howe Principal Hugh Hiatt said. "We are talking about children who, for example, may lack manual dexterity . . . that would put a child at risk of failure if given a straight academic program in kindergarten."

Hiatt said that children identified as being "at risk" are generally less mature and need to be given special activities to strengthen weak spots before they are introduced to reading and mathematical skills.

Tests to determine whether a kindergarten child is ready for school often include measurements of motor skills such as drawing, catching a ball and walking a balance beam. These tests, Hiatt said, are good indicators of how a child will perform in school.

'Able to Do More'

Hiatt said that if his school is accepted into the new state program, teachers will be trained to better identify children with learning problems. "Our teachers have tried to do it with a less structured approach, but under the state program we believe we will be able to do more," he said.

According to Culver City school officials, Howe Elementary School has the highest number of kindergarten pupils in the district who are considered not ready for school.

School officials said they do not have test results comparing students from the district's four elementary schools because there are no uniform tests. Vera Jashni, an assistant superintendent, said Linwood Howe has more kindergarten pupils who are not ready for school because it enrolls more disadvantaged students than the other three elementary schools.

The Culver City district plans to offer an experimental two-year kindergarten class in October for 20 children who are not considered ready to advance to the first grade. The students will come from the district's four elementary schools.

Focus Is on the Child

The state project is being managed by the office of the Orange County superintendent of schools. "Our intention is to focus on the child rather than the curriculum," said state project coordinator Dean Hiser.

Hiser said that 20 school districts throughout the state will be given grants of $5,000 each to administer programs. Culver City is applying to be one of the first 20 districts. Children screened in the program will be tested for coordination, hearing, visual and language skills.

Hiser said the teachers will be trained to identify pupils who are two or more years below the level of their chronological age. The district would then give these students additional instruction to bring them up to grade level.

Finally, each district selected to participate must also agree to provide a teacher to train instructors at other schools to identify students with learning difficulties. Hiser said that if each district is required to train other school districts, the program will reach its goal of expanding into 200 school districts by 1991.

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