Serving as a director for a tutoring center, I often found bewildered parents in my office wondering how their child could be struggling all of a sudden. This was especially true for early learners leaving voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) and entering kindergarten. I once spoke with parents whose child's teacher had just told them that if she doesn't pass the next benchmark assessment, they may want to consider waiting to enroll her in kindergarten. They were confused—"it's only pre-k…she was doing so well earlier." I often thought that if only the parents had known the warning signs of academic struggle, the issue could have been addressed earlier or the parents could be more prepared to hear that their child may need another year of VPK before moving on.
While not all inclusive, these five indications below almost always preceded a visit to my tutoring center for pre-kindergarten students:
1. A Low (or unreached) Benchmark Test Grade
Do not ignore low or un-passed benchmark test grades in pre-kindergarten or early learning. While it may not seem like a big deal that your four-year-old cannot tell left from right or follow simple directions, it could be an indication that they may not yet be prepared for more advanced learning. The first step you should take is to speak with the teacher. Were there any environmental factors on the testing day that your child was negatively affected by? What does the teacher think the score can be attributed to? It's better to head off a problem immediately before your child is more than a "grade level" behind.
2. Behavior Issues at School
In my experience, "unexplained" behavior issues can almost always be explained by a lack of understanding of either the teacher or the subject. Again, speak with your child's teacher. What do they believe the problem is? If paired with declining work, some extra help or planning may be needed.
3. Steady Decline in Progress Report Comments
In high school, a smattering of A's, B's, and C's is not only acceptable, but is sometimes welcome, especially if your child has struggled in school in the past. In the early learning years, letter grades are replaced by comments and progress reports. If you find that your child's progress reports started with "Exceptional" or "Satisfactory" and have declined to “Needs Improvement” or "Unsatisfactory” it may be time to have a discussion with the teacher.
4. "Exceptional"s and "Unsatisfactory"s—and Rarely Anything in Between
In most classrooms, teachers group their assignments into two categories: low-stakes and high-stakes. Low-stakes assignments can generally be classified as in-class assignments given a completion mark. High-stakes assignments include benchmark and milestone assessments. While low-stakes assignments in early grades are intended to engage the student in fun activities and instill a love of learning, the higher grades on these can sometimes fool parents into believing that there are no misunderstandings in the class. If you do see a major disparity in your child’s grades that lasts more than two weeks, contact the teacher to see if they can explain to you what is going on.
5. Little to No Communication with the Teacher
If you find a sudden reduced communication with the teacher it may be they are reluctant, or waiting to speak with you about an issue. They may also be waffling, like you, to decide if they need to speak with you for additional help; they may be trying to mediate it themselves; or they may be overwhelmed in a high student-population classroom. In this case, contact the teacher to schedule a progress report meeting to see what is going on in the classroom.
Pre-kindergarten is the best time in a student's academic career to be retained, or to repeat—so don't panic! Double-check to make sure that your child's early learning center is nationally accredited with small class sizes and certified teachers, utilizes play-based learning techniques.
For more information on making sure your child is ready for kindergarten download our free ebook, 10 Reasons Why Kindergarten is Too Late.