Recommendation Two

Ensure an effective measurement of children’s readiness and growth through a comprehensive kindergarten assessment.

At present, the only fairly consistent measure Virginia has to understand children’s readiness for school is the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS), which was developed to identify children who need reading intervention services to support their reading proficiency. Missing is information about children’s readiness in other interrelated and significant areas such as their ability to interact with and communicate with others, their health and physical development, and their early math skills. Virginia should ensure that school divisions have the ability to assess all kindergarten children with a comprehensive assessment in the fall and spring of the academic year. The fall assessment can serve as an indicator of children’s readiness for kindergarten, thereby helping government and private-sector partners understand the impact of their investments in school readiness interventions. As well, the assessments can help teachers, principals and other administrators understand children’s strengths and areas for improvement upon arriving at school, which should help educators improve instructional planning and delivery.

There are currently two pilots under way to better understand the readiness of Virginia’s children at the kindergarten level. One is looking at the impact and value of comprehensive assessments from the teacher and principal perspective, and the other from the state policymaker perspective. In both cases, the assessment instrument selected for initial testing is the Teaching Strategies GOLD tool, which incorporates all domains of children’s growth and learning, including social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy, math, science and technology, and English language acquisition. Rather than adding burden to teachers and schools, use of a comprehensive tool could reduce the need for the use of disparate assessments and screeners. Unlike PALS, which is a direct assessment, the GOLD is naturalistic, conducted by the kindergarten teacher during ongoing classroom activities. Data from the GOLD, paired with PALS in the kindergarten year, can arm teachers and school administrators with rich, robust information about each student’s skills and abilities and best strategies for supporting optimal learning and growth.

Results from these efforts can demonstrate the states’ progress toward meeting a goal of ensuring that all kindergarten teachers have access to appropriate assessments that inform and improve instruction, and that can be used to inform policy and program improvement for school readiness initiatives. Virginia should continue to support and expand the scope of effective use of comprehensive kindergarten readiness assessment.

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