Kindergarten today is not like it used to be – a place characterized by engagement with social skills and exploring through play. Over the past twenty years Kindergarten has become much more concentrated on academics as a result of federal, state, and local policies as well as parental concerns that emphasize acquisition of basic skills and passing standardized tests. In fact, there’s research that supports the idea that Kindergarten is the new first grade. In response, preschools have become more academic, especially promoting early reading and math skills. Children now know more than they ever have at this age about these subjects.
Children and adolescents in the United States face significant challenges related to academic achievement and mental health. For example, only 36% (reading) and 40% (mathematics) of 4th grade students scored at or above proficiency on standardized tests in 2015 (McFarland et al., 2017). Approximately 1 out of every 17 students will not complete high school and about 13% of the school population, representing 6.6 million youth, require special education services for one or more disabilities that invariably affect their learning and mental health (McFarland et al., 2017). Roughly 1 out of every 5 students will experience a clinically significant mental disorder chiefly including anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and mood disturbances such as depression (Kessler et al., 2012). Thus, it is clear that our student population needs ongoing, effective support to meet and overcome these challenges successfully. Who will answer the call to address these needs? Fortunately, school psychologists are ideally suited to enhance student academic and mental health given their extensive training and experience in educational and mental health support strategies.
Kindergarten screening is a way to gauge your child’s current functioning and growth. It is a brief evaluation or assessment of several developmental domains of functioning in young children that typically takes place prior to the beginning of kindergarten. Although there are myriad benefits to kindergarten screening such as providing accurate estimates of your child’s functioning, informing you and professionals of areas of strengths and challenges, and assisting in planning interventions if necessary, it is not routinely conducted in the United States perhaps because it is not required. As the benefits of kindergarten screening continue to emerge, however, school systems may be more open to begin or enhance their kindergarten screening procedures. As a parent or caretaker, here’s what you should know.