Georgia children in the state’s pre-kindergarten program will soon be under a new set of learning standards.
The Department of Early Care and Learning recently announced the Georgia Early Learning and Development Standards, with this upcoming school year serving as a transition period. GELDS will be mandatory in all Georgia pre-K programs beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
“Georgia has always been a front-runner in early education,” said DECAL Commissioner Bobby Cagle. “We were the first to start having early learning standards, and that has been mimicked by many other states now.
“This is just a continuation of our constant examination of the work that we’re doing with young children, to make sure we’re giving them everything they need to be (ready for school) by the time they enter kindergarten,” he added.
GELDS replace the earlier Georgia Early Learning Standards for birth through 3 years, and the Pre-K Content Standards. Development of the standards began in 2010, when DECAL hired two outside researchers for assistance.
“They did a series of 11 different analyses for us,” said Laura Evans, standards coordinator. Part of that was in looking at the content of the standards as well as developing coursework, she explained.
The purpose is to provide early childhood teachers with the framework from which to base their lessons, and help early education be more aligned with the new K-12 Common Core standards.
“The way we improved the rigor was by examining the Common Core for kindergarten, and looking at how that rigor has increased, and aligning our standards as a precursor skill to what they would be addressing in kindergarten,” Evans said.
There are five areas, called domains, the standards address: Physical development and motor skills; Social and emotional development; Approaches to play and learning; Communication, Language and Literacy; and Cognitive development.
These domains feed into subdomains. For example, cognitive development breaks down into math, science, social studies, creative development and cognitive processes.
Under the subdomains, the standards are listed. For example, under math, there are four relevant categories. Under the “number and quantity” category, it states that a child should “organize, represent and build knowledge of quantity and number.”
It becomes even more specific with goals for children broken up by age group. A child up to 1 year old is expected to be able to observe simple songs and finger-plays that involve numbers, while a 5-year-old child should be able to count up to 20.
GELDS look at some of the issues that Common Core is attempting to address.
“One of the issues with math has been students solving problems but not knowing how they actually got to that answer,” Evans explained. “One of the things we wanted to do starting at the early ages is to help children figure out how they learn.”
She said that there has been some controversy in allowing Common Core to determine the standards.
“I think that what we did was very intentional in making sure that we are staying true to what’s developmentally appropriate for young children,” she said.
Another example, under social and emotional development, is the subdomain “developing a sense of self.”
Under that, a child up to 1 year would be expected to respond to his name. Then, by 2 years old he should be able to say his name. Beyond that, by age 5, he should be able to identify “personal characteristics, preferences, thoughts and feelings.”
Cagle said that having a clear list of standards helps teachers to better recognize any learning difficulties.
“Teachers really have to teach children where they are,” he said, “and this would recognize children who are either advanced for their age, or also those that are not as advanced as they need to be.”
The standards will be mandatory for Georgia pre-K programs, with DECAL providing training for early learning teachers. Georgia pre-K does assess students, Evans explained, and the collected data is then transferred to the kindergarten teacher.
Private programs are encouraged to adhere to the standards, as well. For these usually smaller, home-based day cares, DECAL is providing online training and additional information at gelds.decal.ga.gov.
“This could be very effective for the owners of a family day care home who may not otherwise be able to get out and be a part of this kind of training,” Cagle said. “I think this is something that, for the first time, is going to be much more usable and beneficial to even the small child care programs for Georgia.”