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University experts to work on early-childhood evaluations

Child development experts from around the state will begin meeting at Duke University this week to come up with new ways to measure children's readiness for school and to evaluate their progress in the early grades.

The effort related to a new law aimed at curbing social promotion by having third graders pass the state reading test before they enter fourth grade. The law requires the state to come up with ways to measure student progress in kindergarten through third grades. The "assessments," as they're called, must be individualized, and schools can't use standardized end-of-grade tests for students in kindergarten through second grade as they do for older students.

Experts from public and private universities from across the state will work on the project for six months, and their recommendations will be used to create the assessments. The effort is funded, in part, by the federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant the state won two years ago.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is sponsoring the meetings, which they're calling a "think tank." John Pruette, director of the office of early learning in the state Department of Public Instruction, and Kenneth Dodge, director of the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy, are in charge.

Dodge said in a statement that the new measures would help create a more complete picture of young children's progress.

"This is an opportunity to change the dynamic for teachers and children in the early grades," Dodge said.

UPDATE:

The group will also focus assessments of health and physical development, social and emotional development, and a child's approach to learning, Pruette said.

PPP to Republicans: Touch early childhood programs at your own peril

North Carolina voters oppose cutting early childhood programs and would punish lawmakers who cut them, according to a new poll.

Tar Heel voters oppose cuts in programs for early childhood care and education for children under five by a 56 percent margin,  according to a survey by Public Policy Polling, a Raleigh-based Democratic leaning firm. The poll found that 25 percent would support such cuts and that 18 percent were not sure.

Asked if they were more or less likely to vote for a legislator who cut funding for early childhood programs, 50 percent said they were less likely and 29 percent were more likely and 21 percent said it would make no difference.

Among independent voters who swing back and forth between parties, 59 percent said early childhood funding should not be reduced, while 21 supported a reduction. Fifty-eight percent of independents said they would punish lawmakers who cut early childhood programs.

Democrats strongly(68 percent) opposed cuts while Republicans slightly(39 percent) opposed it.

The survey was conducted as Republicans are about to take control of the state legislature and are looking for ways to address the projected $3.5 billion shortfall. The early childhood programs such as Smart Start and More at Four were championed by Democratic governors and legislators.

The spin: “Strong early childhood programs are one of  North Carolina's hallmarks and have consistently proven to be very popular with voters in the state,” said Dean Debnam, president of the polling firm. “Legislators who go after them face trouble back at home for doing so.”

The survey of 517 North Carolina voters was conducted from November 19-21 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.

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