Ready for kindergarten? New tool will gauge children’s school readiness

April 6, 2010

The Chicago Public Schools is about to debut a kindergarten readiness assessment tool to be taken by preschoolers.

The Chicago Public Schools is about to debut a kindergarten readiness assessment tool to be taken by preschoolers.

The goal is to help teachers and parents know where students need to improve as they make the transition from preschool to formal schooling. “There’s an abyss between preschool and kindergarten, so we’re trying to bridge that gap,” says Eilene Edejer, a senior research analyst in the CPS Office of Early Childhood Education.

However, CPS officials know that given deep concerns about standardized testing, especially for very young children, the initiative may not be entirely welcome.

Barbara Bowman, CPS head of early childhood education, says that while the tool sets minimum expectations for what preschool students should know, it is not a standardized test. “I think that when [teachers] actually are faced with having to do it, we’ll get some pushback,” she says.

The assessment covers a range of skills, from letter recognition to following directions.

 “I wouldn’t want to see a 3- and 4-year-old classroom focusing on letter recognition and sounds in order for kids to meet a standard,” says Kristin Ziemke Fastabend, a 1st-grade teacher at Burley Elementary. Doing so, she fears, might mean that students would miss out on important social-emotional skills that develop from other interactions, like learning to work together and delay gratification.

However, Fastabend says she is impressed that the assessment does look at the social-emotional capabilities of children.

Preschool teachers will get copies of the Kindergarten Readiness Tool by mid-April and give it to their students in May, Bowman says. The district will also make the assessment public, likely by posting it online and in public libraries.

Preschool teachers already use a checklist assessment, which they administer three times a year, but the new Kindergarten Readiness Tool is designed to be more accurate. It requires teachers to score a child’s performance on specific tasks instead of filling out a checklist from memory. (The old assessments will continue.)

Preschool teachers will be able to give results to parents, pinpointing activities they can practice with their child. And district officials hope the tool will be accessible and relevant to kindergarten teachers.

“Currently there isn’t any formal practice across the district for kindergarten teachers to receive information on children who attended a CPS preschool,” Edejer says.

The new readiness assessment consists of about eight activities, which Edejer estimates most preschoolers can complete in less than 20 minutes. From these activities, teachers can glean answers to about 25 questions.

Another six items cover social and emotional skills. Teachers are expected to answer those questions based on their background knowledge of a student. “The proof of some of the social-emotional pudding is in the things they’ve learned,” Bowman says, since social-emotional skills form the basis of a child’s ability to learn from their environment.

Preschool teachers will get a kit with manipulatives (materials like blocks or shapes), score sheets, materials, and directions. For reference, the district will also give them access to a video of someone administering the Kindergarten Readiness Tool.

Zio Perez, a Golden Apple winner and a preschool teacher at Nettelhorst Elementary, says, the screening will be a useful tool for parent-teacher conferences. “I will be able to have the manipulatives in front of me, and I’ll show [the parent] what happened,” she says. “It will give them ideas of what they can do at home.”

She hopes the tool will improve communication with kindergarten teachers. “There’s a huge disconnect between preschool land and the rest of the world,” Perez says.

But she  points out, preschool teachers will have little time to remedy any problems they discover. Administering the tool about a month earlier would give preschool teachers more chance to tailor their teaching. (Perez is a member of the Catalyst Chicago editorial advisory board.)

The district’s Kindergarten Readiness Tool will measure skills like the following:



Simple sorting of objects

Simple addition

Knowledge of number value (for instance, showing a teacher four wooden blocks)



Recognition of sounds and letters

Social-emotional learning

Following directions

How they get along with other children

Their ability to control their own behavior