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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research:
Assessment & Preparation for Assessment: Why Can’t Johnny Read? Could Preschool Really Be a Solution?

Are high-quality preschools addressing this problem and with what impact on future success?


“Why can’t Johnny read?” is a question that has echoed for years down every school corridor, down every legislative hall, and in every courtroom. Fingers have been pointed in all directions, and everything from remediation to desegregation has been tried to teach Johnny to read, but the question remains unanswered.

As a reading specialist working with struggling readers at the third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade levels, I find myself in more of a reactionary position, addressing not only educational weaknesses but also the students’ frail socioemotional states. Over the years, I’ve noticed that a kindergartner’s literacy ability closely correlated to how successfully he or she performed later in the upper grades. This correlation ignited my interest in addressing this problem initially with questions such as Why weren’t these children successful in kindergarten? and Why weren’t they prepared for kindergarten?

Dawn Martinez, a kindergarten teacher and TNLI DE fellow, and I collaborated in gathering data and resource materials. We created a kindergarten teacher survey; studied her class assessment; joined our district’s new Christina Early Childhood Committee; and attended a presentation, “Building Bridges—Zero to Six.” I also interviewed a variety of people throughout Delaware concerning preschool policy and programs, such as those involved with Delaware’s Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP). “The Delaware Early Childhood Longitudinal Study” (2002) reported interesting results using Delaware State Testing Program (DSTP) scores for the same children taking the reading test in third grade and later in fifth grade. The at-risk children who earlier attended ECAP or Head Start outscored at-risk children who did not attend those programs by 20% in third grade and 39% by fifth grade. By fifth grade, the ECAP/Head Start students had nearly caught up to the total population taking the DSTP, and this trend tends to continue. At the same time, the at-risk students who did not attend ECAP/Head Start programs continued to fall further behind, leading to increased retention and dropout. From all that I have read, heard, and learned, a high-quality preschool could better prepare four-year-olds for kindergarten and, consequently, help them be successful in the future.


Since research shows that high-quality preschool benefits all children, we should take the following actions:

  • Lobby for policy and legislation that supports high-quality preschool programs.
  • Lobby for policy and legislation that supports universal preschool.
  • Encourage communication between preschool and kindergarten teachers and administrators.
  • Provide full-day kindergarten for the children who score low in literacy benchmark skills.
  • Support intervention programs.
  • Encourage partnerships between teachers and parents, e.g., informational workshops.
  • Provide outreach to private preschools.
  • Develop a consistent curriculum for preschools to follow.

Sherlynn Aurelio

Reading Specialist, Testing Coordinator
Thurgood Marshall Elementary

TNLI Affiliate:

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute--Delaware, please e-mail Michael Rasmussen.



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