Pendleton School District kindergarten students went into 2018-19 school year with a little less knowledge than the year before, but the district is confident it can make up for it by the end of the school year.

The district’s kindergarten assessment scores for behavior, math, and reading all declined from 2017, although Pendleton was more middle-of-the-pack compared to other districts in Umatilla County.

Pendleton’s 3.8 out of 5 on the child behavior rating scale — which measures children’s ability to engage in basic classroom behaviors like sharing and sitting still at their desks — is above the state average and is slightly below where it was last year. Pendleton was one of only three districts in the county to exceed the state average.

Matt Yoshioka, the Pendleton School District’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said he has issues with the behavior assessment.

“This assessment, to be honest, I don’t give a lot of credence to,” he said.

Yoshioka added that kindergarten students can show model behavior the first few weeks of school when the assessment is administered, only to regress later, or can show dramatic improvement after an initially rough start.

While the district’s math scores only fell slightly from 2017, the declines in English letter sounds and an average of upper and lower case English letter names were more pronounced.

Yoshioka noted the declines, while adding that the assessments were done very early in a kindergartner’s academic year.

“This is really an assessment of parenting and preschool,” he said.

Put into the context of other local school districts, Pendleton’s scores are close to the norm.

Many districts met or exceeded the state average in only a handful of counties, and between Umatilla and Morrow counties, only the Athena-Weston and Ione school districts exceeded the state average in every category.

But despite having a lot of ground to make up at the beginning of the year, Yoshioka said the data shows that students are in a much better position by the end.

“The good news is that these little guys are sponges,” he said.

For instance, students in the 2017-18 school year started the year by knowing an average of about 10 letter sounds. By the end of the year, 79 percent of students could recite all 31 letter sounds. In several other literacy areas, more than 60 percent of students passed the year-end assessment.

Yoshioka attributed the success to the Pendleton Early Learning Center, a centralized kindergarten facility that also hosts preschool and other early learning services.

Although many preschool services are run by Umatilla-Morrow Head Start, the Pendleton School District also teaches 30 4-year-olds through its own preschool.

As legislators and other government officials discuss expanding funding for early learning, Yoshioka said Pendleton would be best served with additional state funding to expand its own preschool beyond two classes.

To gauge whether the district’s preschool is better equipping students to demonstrate basic skills in math, English and behavior, Yoshioka said he’s currently studying the data from preschool students who graduated to Pendleton kindergarten.

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