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Saskatchewan auditor says improvements needed in early learning education

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WATCH: An educational program for pre-school students and the readiness of kindergartners for primary grades needs improvement, according to Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor, Judy Ferguson – Jun 8, 2021

Judy Ferguson, Saskatchewan’s provincial auditor, says improvements need to be made to help preschool-aged and kindergarten-aged children, including those with learning disabilities, properly learn and develop in terms of academia.

Two audits were done in relation to early learning involving the Ministry of Education and the Saskatoon Public School Division No. 13. The audits were released as part of her 2021 Report Volume 1 Tuesday.

Ferguson looked at the ministry’s Early Learning Intensive Support program which is considered to be one of its key initiatives.

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The program, which began in 2017, is designed for preschool-aged children with learning disabilities and encourages inclusivity.

It funded 242 spaces in existing pre-kindergarten programs in 23 of 27 schools division at a cost of $3 million in 2020-21.

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The spaces are for children experiencing significant delays in development including those diagnosed with autism, cognitive delays and behavioral issues.

Ferguson did highlight some positives of the program saying it had “clear objectives, a well-designed evaluation plan and generally collected and analyzed data as planned.”

However, she also pointed out what the program was lacking.

“The ministry audit found the ministry was not collecting data about the progress of each child in the program. Without collecting such data, the ministry cannot determine whether individual children participating in the program receive sufficient support to learn and develop,” the report read.

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“Nor was the ministry collecting information about actions participating school divisions took to address identified issues with the program.”

The audit also showed that teachers are not receiving enough support in terms of training and specialized professional supports such as speech-language pathologists.

Ferguson’s audit on Saskatoon Public School Division No. 13 checked the readiness for children exiting kindergarten into primary grades.

It showed the readiness of Saskatoon’s more than 1,500 kindergarten students at 77 per cent which is close to the provincial average of 79 per cent.

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“Initiatives to help early learners are critical given the percent of kindergarten students in Saskatchewan publicly funded schools assessed as ready for learning is well below the provincial goal of 90 percent,” Ferguson said in the release.

“Moreover; the ready-to-learn attainment of self-declared First Nations, Métis, and Inuit kindergarten students remains significantly lower (at 56 per cent in 2019-20).”

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Found in the report, the school division does have appropriate assessment tools for teachers helping them to collect information on key developmental and learning areas of individual students. Teachers are also receiving proper guidance on how to use these assessment tools.

However, Ferguson did find some things that needed improvement.

“The school division audit identified data collection issues. Testing found kindergarten teachers did not always assess students at least twice a year as expected, or use suitable numeracy assessment tools. Also, the Division could not explain why some kindergarten students did not participate in required reassessments,” the report read.

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“Use of standard assessments of key learning and development areas of kindergarten students (like literacy and numeracy) collects essential data about whether a student is progressing as expected or having trouble learning.

“Not collecting sufficient data about a student’s progress means teachers may not make appropriate changes to their instructional practices or seek alternate resources to help individual students succeed.”

It also found that kindergarten assessment data collected is limited.

“The school division needs to better analyze this data to identify trends and common areas of struggle across all schools in the Division,” the report read.

“Robust data analysis helps identify root causes at certain schools or division-wide gaps. Identifying and addressing root causes will help the Division help more kindergarten students be ready for learning in the primary grades.”

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Saskatchewan NDP education critic Carla Beck says the issues highlighted in the report are the result of years of cuts from the province.

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“The auditor’s report shows that too many preschoolers aren’t prepared for Kindergarten, and one-in-five Kindergarteners aren’t ready for Grade 1. The auditor is clear: the Sask. Party isn’t giving educators the resources they need,” Beck said.

“We have the opportunity to receive $1 billion from the federal government to support early learners. It’s crucial that this government sign a deal that works for Saskatchewan families.”

Ferguson’s full report can be at https://auditor.sk.ca/

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