Researchers at the ECC have been studying suspension, expulsion, and retention data in kindergarten. Our recent study found that kindergarten students of color, those from low-income families, boys, and students with disabilities were most likely to experience suspension, expulsion, and retention in kindergarten. Additionally, our research found students who were suspended, expelled or retained in kindergarten were more likely to experience academic failure (i.e., did not pass state testing) in third grade.
Suspension, expulsion, and retention are the result of adult and child behaviors. Challenging child behaviors are generally the result of a lack of academic and social skills and lead teachers and providers to recommend suspension, expulsion, and retention. However, adults make the ultimate decision to make these recommendations. So, as early childhood professionals, how can we help ensure children do not experience a disruption in their kindergarten year caused by suspension, expulsion, and retention? Act Early.
Social skills delays can be important predictors of experiencing suspension, expulsion, and retention. But social skills do not appear overnight. Social skills in kindergarten stem from proximal skills that started much earlier. Let’s look at an example. The skill of “Problem Solving” is recognized in Indiana on the Indiana Standards Tool for Alternate Reporting- Kindergarten Readiness (ISTAR-KR) as an essential skill for kindergarteners. This skill can be broken down into the following skill continuum:
It is important to look at specific skills within a skill development continuum to ensure we do not expect skills that are out of a child’s zone of proximal development. Therefore, when thinking about a social skill such as problem solving, as early childhood professionals we cannot expect to teach the final skill of problem solving without ensuring the child has mastered all previous skills. For example, if a 4-year-old enters preschool, we might expect that s/he would have already mastered the skill of using trial and error to manipulate objects; however, if we discover instead that the child still needs to work on initiation, then that is where we should focus our energy.
Thinking about skill development in this way is helps us to understand why we must act early. Skill deficits that lead to suspension, expulsion, and retention don’t just appear in kindergarten. The deficits start much earlier. As professionals in early childhood, we need to carefully document skill development and intervention strategies with careful attention paid to those vulnerable populations who are most likely to struggle. Additionally, we must effectively communicate what we see to families and the next professionals working with each child. What system do you have in place to hand-off this information in a meaningful way?