DATA SHOW OPPORTUNITY GAP New Assessments Help Kindergarten Teachers Learn about Students' Strengths, Weaknesses; Give Baseline for Funding

By Lawrence-Turner, Jody | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), January 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

DATA SHOW OPPORTUNITY GAP New Assessments Help Kindergarten Teachers Learn about Students' Strengths, Weaknesses; Give Baseline for Funding


Lawrence-Turner, Jody, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


Washington kindergartners are physically coordinated enough for their first year of school, but their ability to count to 20 and clearly express themselves are lagging, according to a new assessment released by the state.

Early-learning advocates suspected the state's kindergartners were entering school less than fully prepared, especially low- income and minority students. Now there's data to back up the theory.

"I think what's exciting about this data is that we have it at all," said Kathe Taylor, director of early learning assessment for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. "We have not had a common data set for kindergartners, ever."

Kindergartners in 308 schools statewide - 208 of which had state- funded, full-day kindergartens - were assessed for seven weeks starting this fall in six categories: social emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy and math. Spokane Public Schools took part, as did the East Valley, West Valley and Cheney school districts.

The steps leading to the assessments began in 2009 when an education bill established Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, or WaKIDS. The Department of Early Learning, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Thrive by Five Washington worked together to develop assessments and ways to connect the kindergarten teachers with families and early-learning providers.

The first-of-its-kind assessment establishes a baseline for educators to use with lawmakers in negotiating funding.

The data "show that the opportunity gap is evident in the first few weeks of kindergarten," according to the WaKIDS report to the Legislature. For example, while a state average of cognitive development was 71 percent, the percentages uncovered by the study ranged from 62 percent to 80 percent, depending on the racial group or gender.

The 1,003 teachers who participated began the assessments by meeting with each child's parents and observing the child for seven weeks in the six categories.

Spokane Public Schools' 15schools with the highest poverty and full-day kindergarten took part in the assessment. The results showed the schools' combined assessments were below the state averages in all six categories, but only by a few percentage points.

"For us, I don't think it was real surprising where they were; they performed where we thought they would," said Emily Sobczuk, a Holmes Elementary School kindergarten teacher. "Part of the reason it's not shocking is because most of the schools (with state-funded full-day kindergarten) are low-income, so it's not too surprising they are coming in unprepared."

A commonality among many of those schools is a lack of pre- kindergarten care or education. Sobczuk guessed only about 35 percent of Holmes Elementary children attended preschool before entering kindergarten.

She added, "It is surprising that our 5-year-olds can't count to 20, but that has been the trend for the years I've been working here. …

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