Priority 1: Absolute Priority - Using Early Learning and Development Standards and Kindergarten Entry Assessments to Promote School Readiness

To meet this priority, the State's application must address the need to improve early learning and development outcomes for High-Need Children by (1) describing how the State is using its Early Learning and Development Standards to inform its Program Standards, curriculum, Comprehensive Assessment System, and professional development activities; and (2) having a credible plan to administer a kindergarten entry assessment, aligned with the Early Learning and Development standards, to all children who are entering a public school kindergarten by the start of the 2014-2015 school year, with the goals of informing efforts to close the school readiness gap at kindergarten entry and informing instruction and services in the early elementary school grades.

Comments

We believe statewide Kindergarten entry assessment is a strong and powerful tool that can help leverage, allocate and prioritize resources for early childhood programs while providing valuable information to inform instruction of kindergarten students across all domains of school readiness. The draft priorities emphasize that the tools used be valid, reliable and appropriate ofr all children (including children who are English Language Learners) and cover all essential domains of school readiness - "language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, approaches to learning, physical well-being and motor development, and social-emotional development." This makes sense as well as the emphasis on providing adequate professional development to teachers administering the assessments. At its March 2011 quarterly meeting, the Rhode Island Early Learning Council finalized recommendations re: a state kindergarten entry assessment that align well with these draft federal priorities. Our state's early learning data system plan also emphasizes the need to gather more data systematically on children's learning and development to inform policy as well as to inform instruction. We also believe section B(2) and B(4) of the selection criteria do a great job of articulating the need to align and integrate assessments across the early childhood sectors and to improve screening and referral systems -- particularly to address the health, behavioral and developmental needs of high-need children.

  • Add “These standards, assessment systems, professional development activities may be aligned with those of other existing State child and youth services.”

Within Priority 1, we recommend including Family Leadership and Support Standards as an additional required lever to promote school readiness.

For example, the language should be amended as follows:
“To meet this priority, the State’s application must address the need to improve early learning and development outcomes for High-Need Children by (1) describing how the State is using its Early Learning and Development Standards “and its Family Leadership and Support Standards” to inform its Program Standards, curriculum, Comprehensive Assessment System, and professional development activities; and (2) having a credible plan to administer a kindergarten entry assessment aligned with the Early Learning and Development standards to all children who are entering a public school kindergarten by the start of the 2014-2015 school year, “and a school- and classroom-level Family Leadership and Support self-assessment,” with the goals of informing efforts to close the school readiness gap at kindergarten entry and informing instruction and services in the early elementary school grades.”

We recognize that a school- and classroom-level Family Leadership and Support self-assessment tool does not currently exist, and that States might have to develop these based on their Family Leadership and Support Standards. We offer CSSP’s existing Strengthening Families Program Self-Assessment as a starting point for this work, and indeed, several States are already using it to do so. Also, there are many successful models in Early Learning and Development Programs that can inform K – 3 Family Leadership and Support Standards. As this is an emerging area, the costs associated with this might fall outside the bounds of the Race to the Top funding. However, we wish to emphasize that schools should recognize their own responsibility for supporting and engaging parents, and be informed about what teachers and administrators should know and be able to do to meet this responsibility.

Signed,
Frank Farrow, Director, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Judy Langford, Senior Fellow and Director, Strengthening Families Initiative, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Teresa Rafael, Executive Director
National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds

We recommend emphasizing within the Absolute Priorities that States must include as a primary goal: “Supporting parents in their primary role as their children’s first teachers and engaging them as decision-makers and leaders.”

We applaud the inclusion of “Engaging and supporting families” as a component of the grant criteria related to the State plan for “Promoting Early Learning and Development Outcomes for Children.” We support considering State applications based on their efforts or plans to provide information and support to families of High-Need Children to promote school readiness as described in the section (B)(5) of the Selection Criteria. In fact, we are aware of several States that are already doing this through their Strengthening Families initiatives.

Additionally, we assert that the significant role of parents merits a strong emphasis on, and placement of, Family Leadership and Support as an essential component to a high quality early care and education system equal to Early Learning and Development Standards, Professional Standards, and Program Standards.

To meet this priority, the Administration should require that a State’s application include a plan to develop and implement Family Leadership and Support Standards that clearly identify what professionals should know and be able to do, what programs should do, and what policies and systemic functions are necessary to ensure that the entire early care and education system supports parents in their role as their children’s first teachers.

Like Early Learning and Development Standards, Family Leadership and Support Standards are inextricably linked to, and should be foundational to, quality and accountability systems for programs, professionals, and policymakers.

We refer to our comments posted under section (B)(5) of the Selection Criteria for specific recommendations on the design and intent of Family Leadership and Support Standards.

Signed,

Frank Farrow, Director, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Judy Langford, Senior Fellow and Director, Strengthening Families Initiative, Center for the Study of Social Policy
Teresa Rafael, Executive Director
National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds

“A Fully Comprehensive Assessment” system for early learning is a worthy goal, but one that is yet unrealized in any one state, regardless of its progress on systemic efforts for young children. Furthermore, the full costs of a well-implemented, comprehensive assessment system are not currently known. Using the principles of the NRC report is commendable, but is a complex and challenging enterprise. The ELC should stress the development of credible assessment plans that move states along a continuum and measure effectiveness against the plan.

Among the increments that should be required in successful state plans are the expansion of early learning standards and assessments to include the developmental domains, extending these trajectories beyond math and literacy and from Kindergarten into the early grades. (See Priority 4.)

We concur with many of our colleagues who have already submitted comments supporting an assessment system that includes the sampling of children within the assessment system. Allow states to use randomized, stratified assessment models (like 619) -- this is based on sound psychometric principles and is cost-effective.

Readiness is a tricky area, and I believe often mis-understood. Too often, policy makers look only at academic skills when determining readiness. However, there are growing bodies of research that indicate other critical skills and dispositions must be present for children to succeed in school (and thus, in life). Please ensure that the teach reviews the current research as well as books that seek to compile the research and make sense of it (such as "Mind in the Making") when deciding what children need to be able to do/know to be prepared for kindergarten. For that matter, we also need to reconsider the educational experience for children in kindergarten and the early grades, to ensure that they are learning how to learn...not just what to learn.

This priority will divert needed funding to assessment development and implementation at kindergarten rather than providing and improving services to high-need children. It is recommended that a random sample of children as well as a sample of all developmental areas be implemented.

Comments submitted on behalf of the Early Intervention Family Alliance:

The Early Intervention Family Alliance (EIFA) is a national group of family leaders dedicated to improving outcomes for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. The EIFA represents family leaders involved in Part C programs in states and other jurisdictions implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part C for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.

Essential Domains of School Readiness
We were surprised that the adaptive domain was not included in the definition of essential domains of school readiness. The adaptive domain is one of the five domains (cognitive, communication, physical, social-emotional adaptive) required in multi-disciplinary evaluations of infants and toddlers to determine developmental delay under Part C of IDEA. The adaptive domain refers to self-help skills. When newborns develop different cries to indicate their different levels of engagement or frustration they are learning their first self-help skills. Being able to assist with dressing, feeding and having the ability to self-soothe are all key skills that children need to possess in order to be ready for the work of kindergarten. Without these skills children, and the adults who work with them, will be frustrated an unable to focus on language, literacy, mathematics or scientific discovery.

High-Need Children
We would encourage the Administration to use people first language, and change this to Children with High-Needs. Further, we would request that this phrase be used whenever referring to the targeted population for this grant. We note that in the cover letter the phrase low-income children appears before the term High-Needs Children, however that term is never defined in the grant application and we believe that use of that term may result in the failure by some to address the significant needs of a variety of children, who while their incomes may not be low, have barriers to access to programs and supports for early learning and development and fit the definition of Children with High-Needs. Additionally, we question the distinction made between low-income children and children with High-Needs, it is a well-known fact that children with High-Needs are disproportionately found in low-income communities and therefore programs need assistance in identifying and serving children who fall into both categories.
Darla Gundler
President
Early Intervention Family Alliance

To develop a credible plan to assess the readiness of a kindergartener and to use the results of this assessment to “close the school readiness gap at kindergarten entry and informing instruction and services in the early elementary school grades” would be difficult to say the least as many three - four year olds:
• Do not attend a structured preschool program designed for them. In order to create this assessment test and to administer it, attendance in a preschool would have to be mandatory for all three – four olds.
• Some states do not require a five to six year old enrolled in a kindergarten Program. Therefore, designing an entry-level first grade assessment test would then become essential. In addition, attendance to a kindergarten program would need to be compulsory to ensure validity of this assessment.
• Some parents enroll their child, who is born after the state mandated cut-off date, in a private school’s kindergarten program. Upon completion of kindergarten, they then bring their child to their local public school to continue his or her schooling.
• Some children from diverse ethnic backgrounds also speak a foreign language. Consequently, this entry-level assessment would need to be in several different languages or if the test were in the English language then the services of translators would become necessary to ensure the integrity of the results.
• At this point, each state may be administering its own internal kindergarten readiness evaluation instrument to students entering their program. Therefore, all school districts within a given state could form a task force to compile and design a developmentally practical milestones assessment instrument.
• Since ability, levels of students’ entering kindergarten differs greatly devising an entry level test is difficult not only from this perspective but also what will be the syllabus of all of these students who are at different developmental stages? How will those parents react if their child tests at first grade level or above?
• Will this apply to all schools: religious and or private?

On behalf of the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health at Prevent Blindness America, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to provide comments to the draft guidelines for the Race To the Top- Early Learning Challenge Grants. I would like to encourage the Department of Education to consider the important role that healthy vision plays in the ability of a young child to start school ‘ready to learn.’

More than 12.1 million school-age children, or one in four, have some form of vision problem. These problems, however, do not only begin while in school. Vision impairments caused by refractive error, amblyopia, strabismus, and/or astigmatism are common conditions among young children, affecting 5 to 10 percent of all preschoolers. Amblyopia is present in 1 to 4 percent of pre-school children and an estimated 5 to 7 percent of pre-school children have refractive errors. If not detected and treated early, vision impairment could affect all aspects of life, negatively impacting a child’s ability to learn, athletic performance, and self-esteem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, impaired vision can affect a child’s cognitive, emotional, neurologic, and physical development by potentially limiting the range of experiences and kinds of information to which the child is exposed.

These daunting problems significantly affect our nation’s children, yet something can be done! Vision screening, as a component of a kindergarten readiness assessment program, is an appropriate and effective public health intervention. Currently, requirements for preventive eye care prior to or during the school years vary broadly from state to state. Many states have no standards and those with standards present with little consistency regarding type, frequency, and referral or follow-up requirement protocol. Inclusion of vision screenings with a comprehensive approach to follow up treatment and data collection as a required part of the kindergarten readiness assessment for the RTT-ELC grant recipients will help to change this disparity. The National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health stands ready to work with the Department of Education to help change the statistics stated above and make sure that young children have good sight for learning and life. Please do not hesitate to contact me for further assistance.
Sincerely,
Kira Baldonado, Director
National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health

About the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health: In 2009, Prevent Blindness America, the nation’s oldest and leading health organization dedicated solely to the prevention of blindness and the preservation of sight, established the National Center fro Children’s Vision and Eye Health, with funding and leadership support from the HRSA- Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Serving as a major resource for the establishment of a public health infrastructure, the National Center advances and promotes children’s vision and eye care, providing leadership and training to public entities throughout the United States. The National Center established a National Expert Panel, comprising 28 experts and leaders from the fields of ophthalmology, optometry, pediatrics, and public health.

(B)(3) Understanding the status of children's learning and development at kindergarten entry
Children need to have all of the languages they use and are used with them assessed and evaluated. If another language is present in the child’s language development, native language assessment using that language should be administered to the children to determine the extent and scope of the linguistic development present. Formal and informal measures can be developed which can used and guidance how to administer, assess and evaluate the results should be a top priority.

There is a critical need to address English language learners, ELLs, with disabilities as a group within the ELL group and the group that included children with disabilities. Far too often, their linguistic and cultural needs are overlooked or not addresses. We need to recognize that the child is an ELL and needs to have appropriate services provided which recognize and incorporate the child and their family's linguistic and cultural background during all levels of interactions with the child and their families: screening, case study, recommendations for service, IEP development, methods and practices used within learning environments where the children re served.

Absolute Priority - Using Early Learning and Development Standards and Kindergarten Entry Assessments to Promote School Readiness
I believe we would be serving all of our children more effectively if we required a common, statewide kindergarten entry assessment that is aligned with the State's Early Learning and Development Standards. Using the results from the assessment should be to inform instruction and identify needed services in the early elementary grades. We have ample evidence of poor academic performance that follows when children enter school unprepared and/or lacking development in the social, emotional, linguistic, cognitive, and physical skills formal schooling requires. Allowing the gap between the rich and the poor to expand further, as we see happening today, only exuberates the disparities between economic and social classes, ultimately weakening the overall society.

Therefore, it is in the public interest to insure that we evaluate where the children are in the above-mentioned areas and have the appropriate programs, supports, and interventions in place to address their needs. Children of High Need must have access to quality programs which use appropriate and effective methods to address their needs, while working with the families/ care-takers using a holistic approach to service delivery. Far too many children in this category receive little or no services that could make a great difference in their lives if early interventions were provided in a coordinated, consistent manner with the intent of having them meet the standards set for all children in the state.

Guidlines related to these assessments should be written to:

*Ensure that states are prepared to support elementary schools and kindergarten teachers in administering kindergarten-entry assessments.*

Because kindergarten-readiness assessments are typically administered during the kindergarten year, they require the cooperation of kindergarten teachers, principals and other professionals within elementary schools. To be administered properly and to ensure that the data from the assessments is used appropriately to inform instruction and communicate with parents, states should provide support, training and professional development related to these assessments. And to ensure that these assessments provide an accurate reflection of children’s strengths and weaknesses, states and localities may need the flexibility to collect data on children after they have spent a few months acclimating to the school setting. To this end, criteria B-3 could be enhanced and clarified by:
o Encouraging states to provide shared professional opportunities that address the use of these assessments. This PD should be shared among principals, early childhood center directors, pre-k teachers, childcare professionals, kindergarten teachers, and teachers in the 1st through 3rd grades so they can learn to use and act on the data from those assessments in ways that reflect what is known about how young children learn and develop.
o Clarifying when and how states may choose to administer these assessments, allowing for the flexibility of assessing children after they have become adjusted to school routines and when they might provide the most accurate reflection of children’s skills.

- Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative and editor of Early Ed Watch blog (earlyedwatch.net) at the New America Foundation

Assessing every incoming kindergarten child using a measurement tool can be a very expensive process taking away considerable resources that can be used for direct services for children and families. The US Department of Education has set a precedent for approving random sampling as an accepted state-level measurement strategiy with Part C and IDEA/619 outcome data. Please consider allowing states to use random sampling as a kindergarten measurement strategy.

I applaud the absolute requirement that states develop a multi-dimensional kindergarten assessment tool for use with all children – but this is likely to require states to spend a substantial amount of their RTT funds for achieving this end, particularly if it is coupled with the necessary teacher training and support to conduct the assessments, as measuring some domains (especially social and emotional development and approaches to learning) necessarily requires authentic (observational) assessments.

I think this will be viewed as a daunting task for many states, particularly if they feel that they have to start from scratch – or if they feel they have to decide among proprietary instruments and then contract out the work to that entity. I think it will be a much more inviting task if the guidelines indicate that the federal government will treat this priority as one where there will be technical assistance and support available and that states themselves will be part of a learning community in the development of at least core set of measures that can be used or adapted by states in developing their assessment.

My organization, the Child and Family Policy Center, convened an expert workshop for the BUILD Initiative and School Readiness Indicators states on this subject nearly a decade ago, and produced a report on the state of the field in kindergarten assessments that we believe is still relevant today. In 2010, we also worked at the very practical level of constructing a multi-dimensional kindergarten assessment for the Des Moines Independent Community School District.

My experience in this area leads me to conclude that – while states may choose to develop somewhat different kindergarten assessment tools, the federal government can provide a valuable service by compiling and organizing a core set of (nonproprietary) measures to be part of this assessment, from which states then can draw in developing their own assessments. We have examined the work sampling (WS) assessment, the early development indicators (EDI) assessment, other proprietary tools marketed for this purposes, and select state adaptations of work sampling (Maryland, Vermont, Minnesota, Missouri, etc.) as well as Iowa’s Early Learning Standards, Head Start performance standards, and High Scope and Creative Curriculum learning objectives.

When we performed a “cross-walk” of these different instruments, we found that there was a great deal of alignment across them and we could construct a core set of 25 measures that we felt would would capture – particularly for the purposes of a universal kindergarten assessment – very good and reliable information on the status of children across the five domains of school readiness (provided teachers were well-instructed in using it). We also found that there were an additional 15 measures that could be incorporated into the 25 that might enhance this list and that individual ones might substituted for some of the core 25, depending upon particular preferences that leaders in states might have. Since we were doing this work in Des Moines and Iowa, we also cross-walked these with the kindergarten report card used to track progress in kindergarten and share with parents and found that our core measures aligned well with the report card and that we could actually revise the report card to adhere to them and provide what teachers felt was essential information to convey to parents.

In this work, we developed both brief statements about each of the measures, a more detailed description of how to rate students on them (four levels), AND a set of tips to parents on how they might be involved with their child in activities that could support development of them.

This work was time consuming, however, and the costs of validating the measures were not a part of our budget for the work.

What we did find was that education staff and advocates at both the state and district level were really seeking a set of tools they could use, and potentially adapt for their purposes, but they did not want to have to start by constructing those tools from scratch.

I think the federal guidelines could be constructed regarding this priority to require states to agree to participate as part of a learning community in developing their kindergarten assessment measures and for the federal government to provide its own source of support to help develop a common core set of measures (and attendant training, parent guidance, and other tools) available to states to use. I believe this would have benefit to all states, whether or not they apply for or receive a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.

Charles Bruner, Child and Family Policy Center, Iowa

Please consider allowing states to decide on whether to use norm referenced versus criterion- referenced assessment to allow for a whole child assessment (or minimally allow states to phase in criterion referenced assessment to allow for development time). Also, Kindergarten Readiness should be measured at multiple touch points (not just once) from birth to 2nd grade. Lastly, as age primarily determines when a child will enter into kindergarten, not their skill level, the school must be ready to serve each child that enters and most children should be deemed ready for kindergarten - this assessment is really a developmental status for each child that is old enough to enter kindergarten.

- Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC)

1. There is no agreed upon definition for kindergarten readiness, and with out a clear understanding of a construct it can not be meausred

2. A system where the primary assessment is made after the program is over is flawed. Using a kidnergarten readiness assessment to inform the ECE feild is like using the uneployment rate to inform high school curriculum. Policy makers see a link, but it has no effect on day to day operations. This is because kindergarten, as it resides in the K-12 system is not connected to the ECE system. Therefore a kindergarten readiness assessment can not be used for accountability, because the assessment resides outside the system that is intended to address.

3. To conduct a kindergarten readiness assessment the bulk of the resources within this RFP will need to go to school systems to implement such a system, thereby negating the positive impact that these funds could have on the ECE system. In essence you will spend all your resources to discover that the system is flawed, and have no resources to address the system.

4. Assessment is not instruction, therefore a kindergarten readiness assessment will not close the achievement gap, it can only document that it exists at kindergarten and we already know that this is the case.

I concur with these comments.

Tribal children and communities are not mentioned in this area. Tribes should be given the opportunity to address early learning development standards and make application to this grant for their High-Need Children.

This is an area in which professional understanding about what "readiness" means is all over the place, and there is great resistance to "assessment" because it implies (a) a movement away from sound early childhood developmental practice -- that is, the abandonment of play, (b) a common understanding of what we mean by K readiness, (c) the absence of commonly agreed upon simple measures of readiness, and (d) a fear that the early elementary grades are or will push content (from the Common Core Standards, for example) down into the K classroom.

Without an entry to K readiness assessment (could be a checklist constructed from the state's K learning standards), a state cannot know about the effectiveness of its investments in early care and education.

It could reasonably be argued that because not all children attend K and because some attend full day and others part day (even within the same state) that entry to 1st grade is the more standardized point of first assessment.

There is room for debate here. What is essential is that this federal program stand strong on the requirement for age appropriate early assessment linked to the expectations of its Kindergarten teachers for the knowledge, skills and behaviors expected of children when they enter.

JM Gruendel, CT

I concur also with these comments.

How does administering a kindergarten readiness assessment close an achievement gap? Is the idea that schools could refuse to allow a child to enter kindergarten based on the results of this readiness assessment? These are precisely the students who need kindergarten the most.

What research supports that entry assessments promote high achievement? Exit assessments for older students might promote accountability, but not entry assessments. This would just result in a narrowing of early childhood curricula, which research states needs to be broad and experiential.

I would encourage the Department to look at the data from successful Early Reading First grants in helping determine research-based strategies that work. Although this grant is over; there are so many lessons learned. It would be a shame to try and re-invent the wheel with this exciting focus again on ECE.

Will a district fast-track if they are already performing kindregarten readiness and meet the requirements of the standards?

Will norm referenced assessments be acceptable? I ask beacuse e most preschool and infant toddler standards do not have criteiron referenced standards and those would need to be development to provide a summative assessment of readiness linked to standards.

due to the historic lack of communication between early education systems and k-12 systems, current early learning standards are often rigorously applied only in State-funded programs. For a variety of valid reasons, many children are in private programs and do not have the benefit of programs in which these standards are implemented.
related to this concern, is the reality that in many States, the standards are developed to align with traditional notions of learning and curriculum, leaving progressive curricula such as Reggio Emilia, beyond the reach of the neediest children. in addition, the close connect between publicly funded schools and the standards has resulted in some unilaterally developed (k-12 push-down) standards that have limited value for young children.

this project would benefit greatly if the federal government were somehow able to mandate greater communication and cooperation between early educators and k-12 educators - representatives that are not hand selected by bureaucrats (typically traditional systems thinkers)... the Los Angeles Universal Preschool Masterplan attempted such collaboration prior to being hijacked by traditionalists.