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Oregon's KRA an Important Beginning

Oregon this month made an important leap forward in better understanding the achievement gap in the state with the release of the first-year results from the new Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA). The test provides a critical and missing statewide snapshot of whether children entering kindergarten are adequately prepared for school success. The KRA highlights whether or not children received the necessary rich early learning experiences predictive of reading on grade-level by third grade. This first assessment shows 33% of entering kindergarteners could name five or fewer letters. Additionally, 37% of the state's entering kindergarteners could not identify a single letter sound.

While one assessment can never provide the whole picture of children's skills, the data reveals what we already know: Far too many children still do not have access to high-quality early learning experiences.

This lack of access is most concerning for children living in poverty who we know already start school behind. The KRA shows that students living in school districts where a large number of families are low-income have less exposure to letter names and sounds and early math concepts than children in higher-income school districts. We are not doing enough to get low-income children ready for kindergarten. We must do better. This is a time sensitive and urgent issue if we are serious about improving education outcomes in Oregon.

High-quality early learning environments get children ready for kindergarten by supporting whole child development. They promote exploration, experimentation, and discovery. They foster children's social and emotional growth, as well as their language and cognitive development. They give children rich exposure to literature through songs, stories, books, conversation, and writing. They support children's early math skills through exposure to numbers, shapes, and spatial relationships. High-quality programs ensure children are healthy and on track developmentally along with actively engaging parents in their children's learning.

We're seeing the benefit of preschool being aligned and integrated with the early grades firsthand at Earl Boyles Elementary in Southeast Portland, an Early Works site. Kindergarteners who attended the Earl Boyles preschool were more prepared for kindergarten than children who hadn't attended preschool or other formal child care settings in every category measured by the KRA – literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Starting early pays off.

The KRA does more than confirm we're not doing enough for kids. It provides data to inform Oregon's development of an early learning system. We recognize that no assessment tool is perfect and we must continue to refine and improve the KRA, particularly for English language learners. Although we acknowledge this, we also support the need for this important data snapshot that, when used optimally, can help guide decisions, particularly around statewide investments. Well trained and educated early childhood teachers use data regularly to inform their practice and interactions with children and will appropriately bring other assessment strategies into the classroom along with the KRA to support and track the growth of individual children.

Over time, the KRA will allow Oregon to track progress and highlight communities and regions across the state that are in need of far greater supports to close the opportunity gap.

This first-year snapshot gives us sufficient reason to act: There is a large opportunity gap statewide for young children and we must get moving. Let's step up our investments in high-quality early learning from birth so that communities, schools, families and children can all be ready for success.

(See also: A Research Perspective on Oregon's Kindergarten Assessment, McClelland, Love, Green and Squires; Feb. 13, 2014)

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