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Federal study highlights importance of kindergarten

Tracking 22,000 students, a US Education Department study shows for the first time what children know when they enter school and how that knowledge is shaped through early school years.

The study shows that at the end of kindergarten, five times as many children could do simple addition and subtraction as a year earlier. Children who could recognize letters of the alphabet rose from 65 percent to 94 percent. And those who could recognize simple words rose from 2 percent to 13 percent.

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In the ongoing study - which tracks the effect of public and private kindergartens nationwide - children who are poor, non-English speaking, or living with single or poorly educated parents had trouble catching up in their first year of school. They did not improve as much as others in such advanced skills as solving math problems, the study said.

But overall, results showed that all kindergartners increased their knowledge and skills to some degree, regardless of how much they knew at enrollment.

Four million children are eligible each year for preschool or kindergarten, the department said, but only two-thirds of them are enrolled. Just 12 states and the District of Columbia require kindergarten before allowing a child to enter regular school.

The study will track the same group of children (who attend full or half-day kindergarten) through fifth-grade. Results could help advocates make a case for allocating more money to early-childhood education.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society