Results from the second statewide administration of the Kindergarten Assessment (KA) were released Wednesday. The findings were consistent with the 2013-2014 data, indicating that this year’s entering kindergartners are demonstrating approximately the same skill level as last year’s kindergartners on identical tasks.
Similar trends were found for children from districts with the highest concentrations of poverty generally scoring lower on the assessment when compared to children from higher-income districts, pointing to continued disparities in access to early learning opportunities across the state. These trends are also consistent with other national studies measuring these same domains: early literacy, math, and social emotional skills.
With the adoption of the KA in 2013, Oregon joined a growing number of states engaged in kindergarten assessment efforts. Children’s Institute played a large role in ensuring that Oregon moved with the nation to adopt a consistent tool to be used statewide to identify entering kindergartners’ strengths and needs to help inform schools, districts, and policymakers on where to target instruction, professional development, and allocate resources toward areas in greatest need. Prior to the KA, the state did not have a uniform way to capture entering kindergartners’ skills in specific domains of development that are predictive of later academic success.
The KA is not without its challenges. The early learning assessment field is evolving rapidly, the movement toward state KAs is relatively new, and our knowledge of best practices in assessment around English-language learners and diverse learners is still under development. The state is fully aware of these challenges. More importantly, Oregon is committed to a continual process of improvement of the KA.
This month the state convened a group of key stakeholders that included nationally recognized early learning assessment experts, researchers, school and district administrators, directors and providers of early learning programs, and kindergarten teachers to advise the state on adjustments to the KA to ensure that it is developmentally appropriate, culturally and linguistically sensitive, assessing the right set of skills, applying an equity lens, and meeting the goals of the assessment. (See sidebar.)
|How the KA can be used
The Kindergarten Assessment can be used alongside other data to:
- Provide local and statewide information to state-level policymakers, communities, schools, and families about the literacy, math, self-regulation, and interpersonal skills of entering kindergarteners.
- Provide essential information on Oregon's entering kindergartners' strengths and to identify gaps in key developmental and academic skills to inform early learning and K-12 systems decisions and to target instruction, professional development, resources, and supports for the areas of greatest need.
- Provide a consistent tool to be used across the state to identify opportunity gaps in order to inform schools, districts, early learning hubs, communities, and policymakers about how to allocate resources to the communities with the greatest need and to measure progress in the years to come.
The data can be used comparatively for each of these goals. The state can compare communities and populations to understand where gaps exist and where resources should be targeted. Schools and districts can use the data to compare to the state averages or similar districts and begin conversation with their early learning community about targeting communities for additional investment and alignment.
I am honored to be a member of the Kindergarten Assessment Committee that is working to refine and improve the KA. The collective knowledge, skills, and expertise of this group are impressive. Further, the committee is being very well facilitated and staffed by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).
At a recent meeting, the committee grappled with some of the challenges associated with the assessment, namely floor effects on two subtests within the KA: letter names and letter sounds. Based on the statewide data, these two items do not appear to be sensitive enough or appropriate for expected skills of entering kindergartners. Typically, we would expect to see a normal bell curve distribution. In the case of these two items, the data was skewed to the far left, meaning that the vast majority of children could not name more than a few letters or identify letter sounds. The picture was even bleaker for the Spanish version of letter names; more than 55% of Spanish-speaking children could not name one letter. These items leave parents, educators, and policymakers with little information about what children are actually capable of doing. This is critical to ensuring that the KA is meaningful so that we can optimally support children’s learning.
The committee produced recommendations to address these floor affects and improve the administration of the assessment:
- ODE plans an operational field test of adjustments to the early literacy segment in fall 2015to ensure the assessment better matches the skills of incoming kindergartners.
- ODE plans to field test new language/vocabulary items this fall in order to get a better understanding of a broader range of language and literacy skills of entering kindergartners that are predictive of later school success.
- ODE will incorporate the KA Committee’s recommended improvements to the Reporting Overview, the instructions to the test administrators, and the student directions to ensure that the instructions are simpler and more understandable for both teachers and entering kindergartners.
- ODE is incorporating the higher-level feedback from the committee around the intended goals of the KA, the range of student abilities of entering kindergartners into their planning for the field tests, and communications to the public about the KA.
The committee will meet again in early February to finalize recommendations. More information will be coming in the spring once ODE has time to process the recommendations and adopt them.
One member of the committee who had recently moved to Oregon from another state reflected that he was part of other KA discussions that lasted for years and never came to fruition. He said the state should be gratified of the progress it has made in taking action toward adopting and implementing a KA that goes beyond measuring academic skills and includes measures of social-emotional skills as well. “Oregon should be proud of where we have gotten to at this point,” he added. We ended the meeting on that positive note.
I look forward to continued engagement in the thoughtful, iterative approach to improving the Kindergarten Assessment to ensure we can meet the educational needs of our youngest learners.