Drawing on talent ...   Ebonnee Annabel, 5, and kindergarten teacher Raelene Rolliro go through the one-on-one Best Start assessment.
Drawing on talent ... Ebonnee Annabel, 5, and kindergarten teacher Raelene Rolliro go through the one-on-one Best Start assessment. Photo: Kate Geraghty

Paris Cowan and Anna Patty

FOR 30 minutes Kaitlyn Nash, 4, sat with the woman soon to become her first teacher at Blacktown South Public School and looked at pictures of street signs, pointed out the letters she could name and counted pieces of coloured plastic.

As part of the NSW Department of Education's Best Start first-year diagnostic testing program, kindergarten teacher Raelene Rolliro told Kaitlyn that she would say three words, and she wanted Kaitlyn to tell her which two rhymed.

"Hat, cat, cup?" Ms Rolliro asked. "Tail, gate, whale?"

There was a look of intense concentration on Kaitlyn's face.

"Do you know what a capital letter is?" asked Ms Rolliro.

Kaitlyn was a little shy but let slip a proud smile as she pointed out the capital on the laminated card on her desk.

She opened right up when the pencils were brought over and she got to draw one of the characters from the story they had just read. It was clear she wanted to keep drawing rather than move to the counting table to assess her numeracy skills.

Kaitlyn's mother, Katherine, and Wendy Annabel, whose daughter Ebonnee was to meet Ms Rolliro next, waited outside the classroom.

The two women are both teachers at the school, and said they did not feel nervous but understood why other parents might. "This would definitely be scary for parents who aren't also teachers because they don't know the day-to-day workings of a school," Ms Annabel said.

As a kindergarten teacher, she knows how the information her daughter's teacher will take from the one-on-one session will be used in the classroom.

"The test helps teachers to identify students' abilities so we can develop programs that are effective for them," she said. "Without the test it would take us at least half a term to find out what their abilities are, especially if they're shy."

More than 63,000 children starting kindergarten in NSW public schools this year will have their reading, writing, English language and communication skills assessed over the next few weeks under the Best Start program.

About 3700 teachers have been trained to assess students' skills in counting, numeral recognition and working with numbers, groups and patterns. They apply a consistent set of literacy and numeracy tasks for all children.

The $126.4 million program was implemented throughout the state last year after a pilot in 2009.

A spokesman for the Education Department said Best Start would provide 200 extra reading recovery teachers over four years, making 1100 teachers available to help students struggling with literacy this year. There were 500 teachers available this year to help students improve numeracy skills. Last year there were 265.