Recently released results from this year’s Oregon Kindergarten Assessment demonstrate a promising upward trend for kindergartners at Earl Boyles Elementary in Portland’s David Douglas School District. Overall, Earl Boyles’ entering kindergartners outperformed their peers in the David Douglas School District and across the state on most dimensions of the kindergarten assessment. The assessment scores were even higher for students who had attended the Earl Boyles preschool program the year prior to kindergarten entry.
This year was the second year that the kindergarten assessment was administered statewide, and it has its challenges and critics. It is not a comprehensive measure of all skills that we know children need to thrive, and state leaders, the Children’s Institute and others are working to improve it.
But the assessment does provide the state and districts a consistent tool to identify entering kindergartners’ skills in specific areas of development that can help predict later academic success. Those areas include: early literacy, early numeracy, interpersonal skills, and self-regulation. Prior to the implementation of the kindergarten assessment, the state did not have a tool that could be used to identify opportunity gaps in children’s exposure to rich early learning experiences. Nor did it have a tool that measured progress over time.
The results of the kindergarten assessment this year at Earl Boyles indicate that the school’s preschool is showing some initial success in preparing children for kindergarten, one of the intended outcomes of the Children’s Institute’s Early Works initiative.
And positive results are coming from evaluations beyond the kindergarten assessment. We also are seeing positive findings from the external evaluation of Early Works that Portland State University’s Center for the Improvement of Child and Family Services is conducting. Those findings align with dozens of rigorous studies of other early education programs that show that a year or two of center-based early childhood education for 3- and 4-year-olds – provided in a developmentally appropriate program – improve children’s early language, literacy, and mathematics skills.
Research shows that access to high-quality preschool is particularly beneficial for low-income children and children of color, who often start kindergarten behind their peers. That was a primary reason the Children’s Institute selected Earl Boyles as the first Early Works site. Eighty-five percent of Earl Boyles students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and the school is one of the most diverse in the state with its students speaking 17 different languages. Ultimately, the goal of the Early Works initiative is to close the achievement gap for these young students.
“Kindergarten teachers are reporting that the incoming kindergartners this year are more socially and academically ready than ever before,” says Ericka Guynes, Earl Boyles principal. “This year the teachers have been able to move through the kindergarten curriculum at a much faster pace and are getting to academic areas earlier in the year that they typically don’t reach until the very end.”
The progress is showing up in this year’s assessment data; it’s not just anecdotal, Guynes says.
“Our kindergarten benchmark data is at the highest level it has ever been,” she says.
By winter, 73 percent of the Earl Boyles kindergarten students were meeting benchmarks. In previous years, this number had been closer to 40 percent. Eighty percent is the target.
Despite the room for growth, it is incredibly positive and heartening to see that the preschool does appear to be moving Earl Boyles students in the right direction and setting these children on the path toward future success. We look forward to seeing what the numbers look like next year when virtually all of the incoming Earl Boyles kindergartners will have had this rich early learning experience.
These data further support the Children’s Institute’s 2015 legislative agenda. We are actively advocating for an additional $30 million investment in high-quality preschool programs over the next two years to serve an additional 1,500 low-income Oregon children each year. Our legislative agenda is driven by the evidence. We know that high-quality preschool works and we want more children from under-served communities statewide to have the opportunities that Earl Boyles students have had.