States and Districts Can Make Greater Use of Kindergarten Assessments to Understand Students’ Knowledge, Skills, and Growth

Jul 02, 2018

RELevant Viewpoints and Findings from the REL Mid-Atlantic

Many states have adopted kindergarten entry assessments to measure children’s development as they begin school. Consistent with recommendations of the National Research Council’s panel on early childhood assessment and longstanding professional guidance, most of these assessments tap multiple academic and behavioral domains, including language, early mathematics, social competence and self-regulation, physical health, and motor development. The measures identify areas in which entering kindergarteners need help to meet their state’s early learning standards.

States and Districts Can Make Greater Use of Kindergarten Assessments to Understand Students’ Knowledge, Skills, and GrowthKindergarten entry assessments differ from assessments used for older children. First, few kindergartners can read test questions and fill in bubble sheets! Kindergarten teachers typically administer kindergarten entry assessments to each student individually. In addition, teachers sometimes observe samples of a child’s behavior and work. This approach is consistent with expert recommendations to use assessment methods that are developmentally appropriate and conducted in a familiar setting with adults the child knows.

The most informative assessments are both reliable across raters (scored consistently across the different teachers who perform them) and valid (accurate measures of true student performance). In the mid-Atlantic region, Pennsylvania and Maryland have invested in understanding the quality of the kindergarten assessments they developed, while New Jersey, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. use commercially developed and validated early learning assessments.

The assessments that all of the mid-Atlantic states use have evidence of validity, but reliability across teachers is either not reported or not demonstrated. This means a child’s score might vary depending on the teacher doing the testing. Using an assessment that is not reliable may not be a problem for an individual teacher because his or her assessments will still indicate which children in the class score relatively higher or lower, allowing the teacher to plan instruction accordingly. However, using these assessments to look across classrooms in a school to understand children’s development and learning may produce an inaccurate picture. Making these assessments more reliable measures of children’s development will require training teachers to score each item accurately and consistently.

When scores on kindergarten entry assessments are valid and reliable, they can serve a variety of purposes. REL Mid-Atlantic’s research alliance on strengthening the early education continuum is supporting ways to use pre-kindergarten assessments to shed light on students’ achievement levels, support needed, and learning growth. For example, valid and reliable kindergarten entry assessments can help identify students who are at risk of not meeting grade-level standards for early reading. The REL is planning to examine correlations between kindergarten entry assessment scores and proficiency rates on statewide 3rd-grade reading assessments to establish thresholds on the kindergarten entry assessment to identify children who will need additional support.

In addition, kindergarten entry assessments could help policymakers and practitioners gain a better understanding of how elementary schools are performing in the early grades, by serving as baselines for measuring student achievement growth toward subsequent state assessments, which typically don’t occur until the end of 3rd grade. Currently, most states can measure the growth contributions (or “value added”) of their elementary schools only above 3rd grade. Linking students’ kindergarten entry assessment scores to their later 3rd-grade scores could enable states and districts to assess school performance in grades K–3, where student growth has previously been indiscernible to state policymakers.

In our region, stakeholders want to make greater use of kindergarten assessments. REL Mid-Atlantic is partnering with our states to design technical support activities and research studies that will help them understand how to use these data to measure and support student learning in the early grades.

Cross-posted from the REL Mid-Atlantic website.

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