Preschools set to assess youngsters’ skills for kindergarten

April 26, 2010

Today, Chicago Public Schools preschool teachers will start receiving
kits – about the size of a mini pizza box – with materials and
instructions for the district’s new kindergarten readiness assessment.

As teachers review the materials, debate will begin over the
kindergarten readiness tool’s merit – and whether it will take away too
much classroom time from instruction.

Today, Chicago Public Schools preschool teachers will start receiving kits – about the size of a mini pizza box – with materials and instructions for the district’s new kindergarten readiness assessment.

As teachers review the materials, debate will begin over the kindergarten readiness tool’s merit – and whether it will take away too much classroom time from instruction.

In the coming weeks, every preschool student expected to enter kindergarten this fall will be given the assessment. Students’ scores will follow them into kindergarten, providing teachers with an idea of their skills. Next, CPS will evaluate how well the tool predicted kindergarten readiness and likely revamp it before next spring.

Assessment details

Officials released more details on the assessment late last week. The Office of Early Childhood Education posted a 42-item score sheet, response sheets for two of the tool’s activities, and its “work habits and attitudes" observation checklist online.

Also on the site: a letter that introduces teachers to the tool and directs them to a training video. The activities portrayed in the video check skills like naming and writing letters, identifying letter sounds, retelling a story, counting, sorting, and simple addition. (See below for descriptions of specific activities.)

Brian Puerling, a tuition-based preschool teacher at Burley Elementary School, says he is pleased that many activities are open-ended and allow for a number of correct answers. He is also happy that the training video gives examples of ways to re-phrase questions to help children who are stumped by the questions.

“I’m hoping it is going to be used the way it’s intended, which is to help get the (kindergarten) teachers ready for the [level of] skills that the kids are going to be coming in with,” Puerling says.

But he echoes other teachers’ past concerns about the appropriateness of the tool’s literacy content. Matching sounds with letters is kindergarten territory, he says, and beyond what preschool classes should be expected to cover.

“If... those early reading skills [are] a guide for preschool teachers to teach to, then I’m a little more apprehensive,” he says.

Gillian McNamee, director of teacher education at the Erikson Institute, is also critical of the letter-sound recognition item.

“That’s inappropriate for preschool, to me,” she says. “Print is a symbol. What we’re trying to get in preschool is awareness of auditory sounds.”

The rest of the kindergarten readiness tool’s activities are mostly age-appropriate, and could easily be found in preschool classroom work, McNamee says, noting that teachers could assess the same skills by watching students play board games.

But she says the information the tool gathers could be unreliable. It only represents one day and one set of questions, McNamee says, and children could also be thrown off by the unfamiliarity of the materials, pictures, and questions.

And, like many preschool teachers, she objects to the idea of assessing children at a young age.

“It looks harmless. How it gets used, and how the results interpreted, I think, are what gets dangerous,” McNamee explains. She is concerned that a child’s response to a few questions – perhaps on an off day – could dictate how a kindergarten teacher views them for an entire school year.

Data released?

Eilene Edejer, a senior research analyst in the Office of Early Childhood Education, says that a child who is ready for kindergarten should be able to successfully complete most or all of the assessment’s activities. But it isn’t clear yet when or how data from the tool will be released.

“Formal public reporting probably won’t happen until early or later in the fall,” Edejer says, after the district can analyze the data and evaluate the validity of specific items.

Equally unclear is when the text of the tool will be made public. Barbara Bowman, head of the district’s Office of Early Childhood Education, said earlier that the tool would be made widely available to parents at libraries and schools, most likely by mid-April. But those plans are now on hold.

“Since this is our first attempt at looking at kindergarten readiness with any assessment, it’s going to be subject to some modification,” Edejer says. “Once we are comfortable with our set of items, everybody’s going to know what it is.”

Activities and skills checked in the kindergarten readiness tool:

Listening to a story

Moving a hand along with text while a teacher reads it

Using picture cards to re-tell the story in order

Answering simple questions about a story

Answering an open-ended question like “Tell me about a time you went to the park”

Giving a response that is clear, on-topic, and makes sense

Using mostly full sentences

Using at least three adjectives in the response, as well as adverbs and prepositions

Pointing at the correct picture when asked questions like:

“Point to the girl who is concentrating”

“Point to the dog between the children”

“Point to the enormous tree”

Letter recognition

Naming up to 20 letters

Saying the sounds of up to 10 letters

Printing up to 5 letters

Using picture cards to identify pairs of words that rhyme

Rote counting



Counting the number of faces, stars, and hearts in pictures

Then, being able to say the number of objects without re-counting them again

Answering questions about quantity, like:

Which picture has more dots than another picture?

If you have five cookies and I have two cookies, who has more cookies?

Sorting teddy bears into groups based on size and color, such as:

Big blue bears, small blue bears, big orange bears, small orange bears

Doing simple math problems by counting teddy bears, such as:

“Let’s say you have two bears, and then two more bears come for a visit. How many bears do you have altogether?”