State releases recommendations for assessing kindergarteners

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Last week, a state work group unveiled recommendations for an assessment that all Illinois kindergarten teachers would likely
have to use with their students. Last week, a state work group unveiled recommendations for an assessment that all Illinois kindergarten teachers would likely
have to use with their students.

If they’re followed, the assessment won’t be a paper-and-pencil affair.

It won’t be a series of standard activities and questions aimed to gauge preschool learning, like the Kindergarten Readiness Tool used in CPS preschools, so it seems unlikely to replace that assessment.

Rather, the Illinois Kindergarten Individual Development Survey, as it is called, will ask teachers to observe students’ skills in the natural classroom environment. It could be piloted in some school districts as soon as fall 2012.

By using observations, which are accepted as developmentally appropriate for young children, the state may be able to avoid criticisms of more formal assessments, which some educators feel are unreliable or place unrealistic expectations on young children.

“You want to have a rich description and documentation of what a child’s skills and abilities are, and use that information to guide your further practice with that child,” says Jana Fleming, director of the Herr Research Center for Children and Social Policy at the Erikson Institute. “It’s not as rigid as a checklist to make sure a child has accomplished certain things.”

 

Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, says Illinois’ work on this area will give the state a competitive advantage in the next round of the Race to the Top grant competition, which will include a focus on early childhood education.

Six states have developed or adopted similar tools in recent years, according to the committee’s report. Twelve more states are working on the issue.

 

“I suspect it will strengthen our hand for drawing down those dollars,” Steans says. “The timing on this is very, very good.”

The tool would be aligned with national Common Core Standards for kindergarten. Results would be shared with preschool teachers and child care centers.

The work group’s recommendations suggest that teachers would be asked to evaluate students multiple times a year in five areas:

*Health and motor development, including basic health information, likely gathered from parents.

*Language development, including communicating with children and adults and using language in a variety of situations.

*Cognition and general knowledge, including preliminary math and science skills like pattern recognition, cause-and-effect relationships, and everyday problem-solving.

*Social-emotional learning, including confidence and the ability to function in a group.

*Dispositions and “approaches toward learning” that will be different for each child, such as curiosity, creativity, independence, cooperativeness, or persistence.

It is likely that the state will use or adapt an existing child observation scale, rather than come up with one on its own.

Steans, who is also a former teacher, emphasizes that the observations are a strategy, not just a one-time assessment.

“(This way), we get some stronger information at an earlier juncture about where we’ve got some issues in the state, and where we need to deploy more resources,” she says.


However, the tool has a long road ahead of it. The recommendations call for all preschool through 3rd-grade teachers to receive training on child observation, which would be a significant undertaking for the state.

The training would help teachers understand the results of the assessments and plan day-to-day instruction.

“Developmentally appropriate instruction in the early grades is all about… learning to observe kids carefully and tailor instruction and understand where kids need to go,” Steans says. “That then leads to the ability to have much richer conversations with parents, with staff.”

Steans hopes that the training will help “push upward” observational assessments to 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-grade classrooms.

“This is really intended to be much broader, much richer (than the ISAT), and our hope is that will infect the thinking about assessment moving up the chain,” Steans says.

It still hasn’t been determined how results from the observations would be shared with teachers in other grades.

However, Steans says the results should eventually become part of the state’s longitudinal data system, which will track student progress and educational experiences from birth through college.