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Kindergarten Assessment

All children deserve a bright future, and investing in our students early is essential to setting them on the path for success in kindergarten and beyond.

We all share in the responsibility of being good stewards of our children’s future opportunities, and Oregon is making some fundamental changes to help ensure our students have the strong start they need for school success.

We know that every child enters Kindergarten at a different stage in learning and development. Some children have mastered letters but have a hard time with numbers. Some are able to communicate ideas and needs, but have difficulty following directions. This is completely normal and expected. You know this as educators.

The Oregon Kindergarten Assessment was created to get a clearer picture of early learning experiences across the state, and provide a snapshot for educators of the skills children are coming to kindergarten with.

We know that there remains a great deal of inequity in the types of experiences children have before entering school. The Oregon Kindergarten Assessment is essential to understanding, and ultimately closing, the divide for our most underserved early learners.

By providing a statewide perspective, the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment allows educators to track trends and measure progress, and helps ensure that we are working together to give every child a great start in school and in life.

Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the Kindergarten Assessment?
In 2013, Oregon launched a new annual statewide Kindergarten Assessment, replacing the kindergarten survey that was suspended in 2009. In the fall of each year, educators will gather information about the early literacy and early math skills, as well as interpersonal and self-regulation skills, of their students. This information will provide an important “snapshot” of how Oregon’s children are doing when they arrive at school.

Why does Oregon need the Kindergarten Assessment?
We have a responsibility be good stewards of our children’s futures. When we invest early in a child’s life with rich experiences to develop the child’s heart and mind, the child is better able to give back to the community later in life. Children currently enter kindergarten having had a wide variety of early childhood experiences. The Kindergarten Assessment sheds light on these differences and allows us to better target resources for families and children where they are most needed. It also gives schools additional information that can inform how they invest their limited resources in students.

How will this assessment be used?
The Kindergarten Assessment is not a pass or fail test of kids or of families; it is a tool for determining how Oregon is doing as a state in supporting children and families before they enter school. The Kindergarten Assessment will provide invaluable information about: whether our public investments are improving the school readiness of Oregon’s children; how extensive the opportunity gaps are between groups of children; and whether Oregon is succeeding in closing those gaps.

What does the assessment measure?
The Kindergarten Assessment focuses on areas that research has demonstrated are strongly linked to 3rd grade reading and future academic success: self-regulation, interpersonal skills, early literacy, and early math. The self-regulation and interpersonal skills are measured through a survey based on teacher observation of the student during regular classroom activities and routines. The teacher then responds to questions such as “does the child follow directions without requiring repeated reminders?” For the early literacy and math measures, an educator meets with the child one-on-one and asks the child to complete tasks such as identify letters or counting the number of objects in a picture.

How was the assessment selected?
The Kindergarten Assessment was adopted by the Early Learning Council in 2012 following recommendations from the Kindergarten Assessment Workgroup. The Workgroup was composed of kindergarten teachers, early educators, and district assessment coordinators. The Workgroup also contracted with early childhood researchers to ensure that assessments were age-appropriate, valid and reliable. An Interpretative Panel made up of researchers, educators, and community members reviews the results of the assessment and provided recommendations for improvements to both the assessment and the way the results are shown. The early literacy and math segments of the assessment are based on the EasyCBM assessment system, and were selected in part because they align closely with existing classroom assessment practices in schools throughout the state. The Approaches to Learning segment uses the Child Behavior Rating Scale, a research-validated observational tool that assesses children’s self-regulation and interpersonal skills.

What does the initial set of assessment data tell us?
The Kindergarten Assessment shows that different populations of children are arriving at kindergarten with different levels of exposure to early literacy and early math. The measures of self-regulation and interpersonal skills revealed that significant numbers of children are arriving without some of the basic social-emotional resources needed for success in school. This is the first time social-emotional skills have been assessed statewide.

Who administers the assessment?
The assessment is administered through educators in local schools and overseen by the Oregon Department of Education. In 2013, over 95% of all entering kindergarteners participated in the assessment, providing an unprecedented snapshot of the state of early learning in Oregon.

What is the current state of early learning?
We know that there are a range of early childhood experiences and we have a long way to go to overcome significant inequities. By highlighting gaps in student knowledge and skill – and gaps between student groups and communities – the assessment results provide direction and urgency for early action. In addition, results provide a baseline for tracking trends over time, measuring progress, and ultimately providing better tools to support the success of young children and their families.

Is this too early to be testing children?
The Kindergarten Assessment is not what is typically thought of as a “test.” The child-friendly assessment is a combination of teacher observations and simple questions that help identify some early literacy and math skills, how a children approach learning, their ability to follow directions, and how they interact with other students. Children are never asked to write down responses during any portion of the assessment.

Does the assessment give an accurate picture of a child’s abilities?
The Kindergarten Assessment provides a snapshot of progress in acquiring some of the knowledge and skills that have been shown to be correlated to later success in school. The assessment components have been documented by researchers to be reliable and valid for this purpose. No assessment can give a complete picture of a child’s ability, but it can give a snapshot at one point in time.

It is important to remember that kindergarten assessment is not new. Most, if not all, of Oregon elementary schools have used some form of assessment in the past for entering kindergartners. However, the lack of a common, statewide assessment has made it impossible to get a meaningful understanding of the overall school readiness of incoming students, limiting the state’s ability to make informed decisions about early learning investments and programs.

What has changed as a result of the assessment?
The Kindergarten Assessment has raised awareness of early childhood learning and development and the connection to later learning. The results of the assessment have inspired conversations about how to better serve families and children before they enter kindergarten. The assessment results are also informing data-driven state-level resource allocation, including a historic $100 M in early learning and family supports as a result of the 2015 legislative session. For example, in Malheur County, assessment data were used as a to call action to strengthen partnerships between early learning providers and elementary schools to ensure that children enter kindergarten with the skills they need to be successful.  In communities like McMinnville and Gladstone, educators are integrating Kindergarten Assessment results as a data point in their efforts to track children’s learning trajectories from Pre-K through third grade.  In Lane County, Kindergarten Assessment data are being used to help identify communities in which to expand the highly successful Kids in Transition to School (KITS) program.

The assessment results are also informing data-driven state-level resource allocation, including a historic $100 M in early learning and family supports as a result of the 2015 legislative session.

Does the Kindergarten Assessment make the transition to school more difficult?
Most kindergarten teachers use assessments at the beginning of the school year to understand and plan for the needs of their individual students. While the transition to kindergarten can be difficult for children and families, knowing the needs of individual children is essential to making the transition a successful one. Educators are trained to conduct the assessment in an appropriate manner and are equipped with resources to accommodate the individual needs of students. The Kindergarten Assessment is not high stakes or high pressure, but it does have the potential to elevate the importance of early learning and add urgency to addressing the inequities our youngest Oregonians face.

Is the assessment consistent with accepted views of preschool curriculum?
Each domain measured by the Kindergarten Assessment (early literacy, early math, self-regulation and interpersonal skills) can be found in Oregon’s Early Learning Standards. These are the same standards that are used in Head Start classrooms and many preschools across the state.

The state is committed to age-appropriate teaching and learning practices. For example, research shows that letter recognition at kindergarten entry is an important predictor of later success, but we also know that young children don’t learn letters best by being drilled on letters; they learn them by experiencing literacy rich environments.

Can a child fail the assessment?
No. Children cannot pass or fail the assessment, this is purely a check in on the skills and knowledge acquired before entering school. All children who have met the age requirement are entitled to attend kindergarten, this assessment in no way impacts a child’s ability to begin kindergarten.

How many letters are “ready” children expected to name?
There is no expectation that any child be able to name all letters and letter sounds in the time allotted for the literacy assessment. The short, timed assessment gives a snapshot of a child’s comfort with letter recognition. It is not intended to provide a complete picture of a child’s letter knowledge.

How does this assessment help address inequities in our community?
The Kindergarten Assessment will help us better identify inequities in order to direct resources and support to underserved communities. The allocation of additional resources and support is intended to help close the opportunity gaps that exist between communities.

How has the assessment been improved to address English Language Learners?
As additional years of data are collected, the assessment will be adjusted to make improvements in the assessment itself as well as the collection and presentation of data. An interpretive panel made up of educators and researchers reviewed the results of the first year of the assessment and recommended a number of adjustments.

Resources are available to help educators make decisions about appropriate assessment of English Language Learners. For example, directions can be interpreted into a student’s first language.

Spanish-speaking kindergarteners make up the vast majority of kindergartens who are English Language Learners in Oregon. Students whose first language is Spanish will also participate in an early Spanish literacy assessment of Spanish syllable sounds. By assessing in both languages, educators will have information on Spanish-speaking English Language Learners’ early literacy skills in both English and Spanish.

How can families help prepare their child for kindergarten?
Preparing a child for success in school and in life begins even before he or she is born. From the first weeks, talking to a child and playing age-appropriate games can instill a love of learning and build important early social and emotional skills. Check out “Love. Talk. Play.” or Getting School Ready! for suggestions.   

Will teachers receive student level data shortly after completion of the assessment?
Yes. Districts can access preliminary student-level assessment reports once they have been entered into ODE’s collections system. Teachers can use this data to help guide instruction at the beginning of the school year.

How can schools and teachers use the assessment information?
The statewide Kindergarten Assessment data is a snapshot of a particular student at a particular time, and the assessment focuses on only a portion of the skills that students bring to kindergarten. As such, it should be supplemented with other information to provide a more complete picture of each child.

Teachers can use Kindergarten Assessment data to:

  • Contribute to overall understanding of individual student growth during the early part of the school year;
  • Provide resources and interventions for students who need additional support;
  • Communicate with students’ parents/families about the growth that children demonstrate throughout the school year and how families might support student learning and development at home;
  • Discuss patterns in school- and classroom-level data; and
  • Initiate outreach to families and local Pre-K and child care programs to help them guide children’s learning and development before students start kindergarten.

Additional Materials

Read Portland State University’s Kindergarten Assessment Pilot Process Evaluation report.

Regularly check out the Department of Education’s Kindergarten Assessment Resource Page, with the latest updates on trainings and information.

Watch the K-3 Formative Assessment Consortium Webinar, December 20, 2013.

Comments from Bill Stewart, Gladstone School District

A Research Perspective on Oregon’s Kindergarten Assessment

Oregon’s KRA an Important Beginning by Swati Adarkar, Children’s Institute

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