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We need kindergarten research tool, school district says

The School District board is asking the B.C. government to continue the same level of funding for what it considers an essential research tool for kindergarten-aged children.

Each February, kindergarten teachers in East Kootenay schools fill out a 104-question form for each of their students. These anonymous forms are used by UBC's Human Early Learning Partnership to put together a report that reveals population-level trends for children by province, region and neighbourhood. The research tool is called the Early Development Instrument (EDI).

"We've been using the EDI in our district for 10 years," said Frank Lento, chair of the School District 5 board of trustees, adding that SD5 was one of the first in B.C. to use the data.

"As a result, we've been better able to plan for supports for children in school and have also worked closely with community partners to improve opportunities for children to access early childhood programs."

The EDI is jointly funded by the B.C. Ministries of Education, Health and Children and Family Development. But Lento said that earlier this year, SD5 was told the B.C. government will no longer fund annual testing. Instead, teachers will fill out the forms for every third kindergarten class, after next year. UBC recommends that school districts with smaller kindergarten classes participate each year for accurate results.

"Our EDI results contribute to a provincial picture of our children's developmental needs. This is important because our provincial government benefits from understanding that we have many vulnerable learners who are entering our schools each year," Lento said. "It's unfortunate that access to such a valuable tool is being reduced simply on the basis of funding."

The EDI asks questions that measure early child development and predict adult health, education and social outcomes. Questions are broken into five categories: physical health and well-being; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive development; and communication skills and general knowledge.

The research helps schools, community groups and government locate vulnerable children – those who need additional support so they don't experience future challenges in school and society.

In SD5, the data has helped in the past with StrongStart programs, Ready, Set, Learn events and preschool programs.

In 2010, it was the EDI results that led the B.C. government to introduce full-day kindergarten, because it showed that preschool-aged children need to be better prepared to learn.

In January, the SD5 board of trustees agreed to write to the B.C. government, imploring it to continue annual funding for the EDI tool.

They followed it up at the Feb. 11 board meeting by throwing their support behind a new tool, the Middle Development Instrument (MDI). It's a similar tool that measures students in Grades 4 to 7 on a regional, community or school level, rather than individual test scores.

Lento said the MDI would provide a much-needed window of understanding for schools, districts and the Ministry of Education to better respond to the unique developmental challenges middle-school students face.

"The middle years are very important in a child's development and overall student success. These are the years that most determine whether or not a student graduates grade 12," said Lento.

For more information on the EDI, visit www.earlylearning.ubc.ca/edi/.

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