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Passing Kindergarten No Longer Child’s Play in Saugus

Times Staff Writer

The 700 members of the Saugus Union Elementary School District kindergarten class of 1986 will go down in history as the district’s first group of youngsters required to pass competence tests in order to be promoted to first grade.

“Twenty years ago, kindergarten was all fun and games,” said Suzanne Garnett, a kindergarten teacher at Cedarcreek Elementary School, one of eight schools in the tiny district of Canyon Country. “Well, it’s still fun, but now the games are more academic,” she said.

Neva Meinhardt, assistant superintendent at the Saugus district, said 94% of the class of 1986 passed the exam and will go on to first grade either in July (for students attending on a year-round schedule) or September. Friday was the start of summer vacation for all students in the district.

Needed to Graduate

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Last year, the Board of Education established graduation requirements for kindergartners in the district’s eight elementary schools to make sure the children meet levels of competence considered necessary to function in first grade.

Saugus officials said the test was created to bring the kindergartners into line with a long-established policy of retaining students who fail to meet standards of minimum proficiency.

Although flunk rates in previous years have been recorded merely at the individual schools, the district now plans to monitor the new system to evaluate its overall effectiveness, officials said Friday.

To be promoted this year, kindergartners had to pass a 60-point exam testing basic math concepts, skills connected with reading readiness and with putting a familiar story into its proper sequence.

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Students were also judged on their maturity level, and youngsters for whom English is a second language were judged on their ability to speak it.

Those who will repeat kindergarten will be allowed to move on to a combined kindergarten and first grade or to a regular first grade as soon as their skills or maturity levels have met the standards. “This was never designed as a punitive measure,” Meinhardt said.

Saugus educators say kindergartner exam week is fairly relaxed. In part of the test, just the teacher and the student are in the room. In other parts, the teacher asks three or four children to “circle the number 2" or to “write a lower case ‘h.’ ”

Passing tests to be promoted will become a way of life for these students.

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The Hughes-Hart Education Reform Act of 1983 requires that all California students at all grade levels pass proficiency tests before promotion or graduation.

Saugus Union was the first district to apply the mandate to its kindergartners.

Children Don’t Care

Young children perceive little difference in attending kindergarten one year or two years or in going from kindergarten to first grade in a few months. Those most sensitive to such factors, Saugus educators said, are their parents.

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To ensure that parents are well-informed about their child’s progress, the district sends home special report cards that have space for teachers’ written comments as well as letter grades.

Parent-teacher conferences are required in December and in late spring. And many Saugus kindergarten teachers send weekly newsletters home with their students so parents can create activities that reinforce classroom exercises.

“There are no surprises. By the time a decision on retention is made, parents and teachers agree,” Meinhardt said.


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