Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Timing of Early Reading Assessment in Kindergarten

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

The Timing of Early Reading Assessment in Kindergarten

Article excerpt

Abstract. Under the accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind legislation, screening for reading risk has become routine in kindergarten. The objective of this study was to examine the effects of the timing of kindergarten assessment and the type of support provided to teachers to translate assessment results to instruction. Sixty-two schools with 201 kindergarten classrooms and 3,635 students in a southwestern state were randomly assigned to administer kindergarten assessment in the fall or in the winter, with teachers receiving onsite or web mentoring. A small, significant effect (d = 0.13) was found for outcomes on a standardized reading test administered at the end of kindergarten when teachers administered the screen in the fall and received web rather than onsite mentoring. A slight, nonsignificant, reduction in reading risk (i.e., reduction in false positives) was apparent. Given these small effects, there is little empirical support for initiating screening in the fall rather than in the winter of kindergarten.

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In the United States there is a long history of screening children in kindergarten for sensory, language, and cognitive abilities in order to refer children with disabilities for early treatment (Fletcher & Satz, 1982). Since the mid-1990s, however, kindergarten has increasingly become full day with a formal curriculum. As the kindergarten curriculum has shifted from one of "developmentally appropriate practice" to one of academic subjects (Deboer, 2002; Jeynes, 2006; Saracho, 1986), assessment has shifted from screening for developmental disabilities to screening for academic risk and diagnosis of learning difficulties.

A major catalyst for this shift in the business of kindergarten has been a shift in federal policy towards increasing accountability. In 2001 the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act passed, with the goal "to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and State academic assessments" (U.S. Code 6302 [section] 1001). Coupled with the accountability provisions of NCLB is the primary-grade component of the legislation, called Reading First, which mandates the use of curriculum and assessments based on scientifically based reading research.

As states wrote assessment plans for screening and diagnosis into their Reading First applications, little consideration was given to the timing of kindergarten assessment: whether screening and diagnosis should start at the beginning of the year or after children had had a chance to socialize to the academic demands of kindergarten. This study examined this question of the timing of kindergarten assessment by randomly assigning schools to administer a state's early reading assessment at the beginning of the kindergarten year or in the middle.

At Risk in Kindergarten

Students who are at risk for reading difficulties are typically identified due to their lack of response to instruction. The lack of response is attributed to several factors, including background, lack of differentiated instruction, lack of progress in a given reading program, and/or poor performance on reading measures. Historically, schools have often classified underachieving kindergarten students as not "developmentally ready," anticipating that they would prosper in first grade.

However, with the accountability systems in place (i.e., NCLB) and the plethora of research on beginning readers, we know what milestones students are able to reach at each grade level (see National Reading Panel [NRP], 2000; Schatschneider, Fletcher, Francis, Carlson, & Foorman, 2004; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). With this knowledge, assessments were developed to help teachers identify students who may be at risk for reading difficulties based on predictive indicators. …

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