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School Readiness Indicators: Where Does Assessment Fit?. Workshop Presentation at NAEYC Annual Conference November 10, 2004. Charles Bruner Director Child and Family Policy Center and SECPTAN.

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School Readiness Indicators:Where Does Assessment Fit?

Workshop Presentation atNAEYC Annual ConferenceNovember 10, 2004

Charles Bruner


Child and Family Policy Center


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The Why – Kindergarten Assessments: Reasons for Measuring “What Children Know and Can Do at School Entry”

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1st National Education Goal still needs to be realized

Need to answer policy maker questions on status of reaching that goal

Need to assess how policies and strategies we put into place are working

Federal and state actions moving in direction of establishing measures and standards (need to do it in an informed way)

School readiness indicators initiative without indicator of child’s school readiness is incomplete

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The What –Uses of a Kindergarten/School Readiness Assessment

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  • Support Learning

  • Identify Special Needs

  • Evaluate Programs

  • Track Trends, Build Awareness, and Support Policy Development

  • Allocate Resources

    • target areas of need

    • finance effective strategies

  • Hold Actions Accountable

    • incentives/sanctions and teacher/school/district accountability

    • not make decisions on child’s kindergarten entry readiness

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Uses of Kindergarten Assessment for Awareness and Policy Development

  • Show the level of “school readiness” in the state (districts, schools) and raise public awareness on the need for strategies to improve it

  • Track the progress made in the state (districts, schools) over time in achieving school readiness

  • Determine for what groups of children “school readiness” represents an issue that requires special attention

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What We Know About Children’s School Readiness Development

  • Multidimensional

  • Dimensions interact

  • Serious gaps exist in children’s school readiness that need to be addressed

  • Children who start behind tend to stay behind

  • Only beginning to develop measures that can describe the school readiness of kindergarten children

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Serious Gaps Exist Development

ECLS-K data and other data show we haven’t achieved 1st National Educational Goal and a “readiness gap” exists by:

  • Gender

  • Geography

  • Language

  • Race

  • Socio-Economic Status

    [Child Trends reports and Economic Policy Institute’s Inequality at the Starting Gate]

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School Readiness DevelopmentMulti-Dimensional and Dimensions Interact

  • Physical well-being and motor development

  • Social and emotional development

  • Approaches to learning

  • Language development

  • Cognition and general knowledge

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National Status of Children: DevelopmentECLS-K Data and Percent of ChildrenLagging on One or More Dimensions

0 44.2%

1 35.1%

2 15.7%

3 5.0%









Social and Emotional


Source: Child Trends analysis of ECLS-K, base year public-use data for 1998-1999

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Social/Emotional Developmentvs. Cognitive Development

  • Not Either/Or but Both/And

  • Not Fuzzy and Unmeasurable, but Part of Accountability/Continuous Improvement System

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Beyond the DevelopmentFuzzy/Academic Language

Language and Literacy/Cognition

  • Knowing a lot of words

  • Talking in sentences

  • Knowing sounds

  • Learning alphabet and numbers

Social and Emotional/Approaches to Learning

  • Paying attention to teacher

  • Working together in groups

  • Not getting too frustrated doing new tasks

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Teachers/Employers Value DevelopmentSocial and Emotional Skills

  • Surveys of early elementary teachers rate social and emotional developmental challenges as biggest barriers to teaching

  • Employers consistently state that approaches to learning/”soft skills” (social and emotional factors) more important than content knowledge for most jobs

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? Development

National Reporting Standards (NRS)

No Child Left Behind High Stakes Accountability

Challenge/Opportunity to States:Federal and State Actions Moving in Direction of Establishing Measures and Standards for Early Learning

Head Start Kindergarten Third Grade

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The How – DevelopmentTwo Approaches to Assessing Children’s School Readiness

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Reading/Language Literacy Tool: DIBELS, etc. Development

  • validated instrument on a student population basis

  • capable of broad-based implementation and single measure interpretation

    Work Sampling/Multidimensional Approach (Maryland, Vermont, Minnesota, Missouri)

  • involves observation in natural settings, which are needed to fairly assess multiple dimensions

  • is holistic and can be used as a teaching aid

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Issues in Kindergarten Assessment Development Development

  • Most important distinctions likely to be cross-population ones, including geography

  • Must be careful to guard against misuse

  • Alignment with standards important

  • Politics to date suggest proactive approach that includes social and emotional with language and cognitive elements

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Focus on Geography DevelopmentPoor Neighborhoods:Rich in Young Children

Very Young Children (0-4) as Percentage of Population

by Child-Raising Vulnerability

1.7 million children

4.1 million children

10.8 million children

2.4 million children

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Focus on Geography DevelopmentStarting Behind: Staying Behind

Children from Des Moines Making Connections Areas

and Des Moines School District:

Mean Kindergarten Assessment Scores and

Mean Third Grade Composite Scores

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Focus on Geography: Development

Implications for Policy

and Practice

  • Place matters and issues of place must be addressed

  • Color blind approaches (bringing credentialed White, Non-Hispanic teachers in from suburbs to teach preschools) won’t build community and can do harm

  • Place-based early childhood strategies (involving staff and career development for people in neighborhood) can improve school readiness, while building community and economic opportunity

  • Birth to five (and beyond) focus is essential (preschool not a silver bullet for success)

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c/o Child and Family Policy Center Development218 Sixth Avenue, Suite 1021Des Moines, IA 50309-4006

SECPTANState Early Childhood PolicyTechnical Assistance Network

Resources and Publications Include:

  • Measuring Children’s School Readiness: Options for Developing State Baselines and Benchmarks

  • Beyond the Usual Suspects: Developing New Allies to Invest in School Readiness

  • Child Welfare and School Readiness: Making the Link for Vulnerable Children

  • Financing School Readiness Strategies: An Annotated Bibliography

  • Health and and School Readiness: The Health Community’s Role in Supporting Child development

  • On the Path to School Readiness: Key Questions to Consider Before Establishing Universal Pre-Kindergarten

  • Seven Things Policy Makers Need to Know about School Readiness

  • Up and Running: Compendium of Multi-Site Early Childhood Initiatives