Education
7:00 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Why Measuring What Kentucky's Kindergartners Know is Useful

This afternoon, we find out how prepared Kentucky's kindergarten students were entering the 2013-2014 school year last fall.

The Kentucky Education Department releases its first ever statewide results of its kindergarten screener.

The Brigance screener is a test that measures a student’s social and emotional developments along with visual and motor skills to determine whether a child is prepared to succeed in public school. It began last year as a pilot program in more than 100 school districts last academic year.

Kindergartners enter school at a certain age—regardless of whether they're ready.

But, with the screener data, teachers can tailor instruction for students who need specific supports.

That's the idea.

I recently spoke with Terry Tolan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Education, about the kindergarten screeners.

How can the data be used to help students, teachers, communities and policy makers?

“For the first time we have a true picture of where our children are developmentally at a specific point in time. It will give us the ability to measure the impact of programs, changes, and early childhood education and educator preparation. It could have an impact on all of those things over the long term. Over the years Kentucky has deployed a lot of strategies to help children prepare for kindergarten and beyond and because we didn’t have a single way to measure the progress that they made we didn’t have any way to gage the impact of those programs.

“What we hope it will tell us long-term is how children are making progress based on any early learning programs that they may participate in. It’s not a perfect measure and there are a number of reasons why I say that. One is that there are many variables that determine the pace of a child’s development. One of those may be the quality of early learning programs that they’re in prior to kindergarten entry. But we know the family that they’re born into, and any physical or cognitive limitations that the child may have, and family income and education level, and how many words children hear prior to coming to school….all are variables that help determine the pace at which every child develops in the early years.”

Who may be able to benefit from the Brigance screener results?

“Classroom teachers in kindergarten classrooms will have information about where each child in their class is and will know who needs extra help and who has the ability to move more quickly than other kids in their class who can benefit from enrichment.

"Family: It is an opportunity for the teacher to talk with the family members about areas where their child may need to catch up a little and there are many activities that parents can do to help their child developmentally.

“School districts can use the information to help them develop strategies about how to better meet the needs of kids in their community in the early years before they come to kindergarten.

“Communities can use the screener information to plan strategies for helping kids in their community.

“Policy makers can use the screen to look at the status of kids in the early years in the commonwealth and to develop strategies for how we’re going to support families and schools and children to make sure they get off to the best start.”

How does Kentucky compare with other states that are also screening students?

“Kentucky’s really on the leading edge of this comprehensive multi-domain approach to screening. So as we look to our North, for example, Ohio has been screening kids at kindergarten entry but they’re only screening on language and literacy. And that has been the more common approach, was to look more at those cognitive skills. Kentucky’s screener looks at five domains, so we’re looking at physical development, at language and learning, math and general cognitive development, approaches to learning which is curiosity and desire to learn and social emotional development.”

During the pilot year was there anything of special concern or that popped out as something that needs to be watched?

“I think the lowest domain among the five domains … was language and literacy and we know that there are some very simple steps that families can take to really help children in terms of language development. Simple things like reading books to your child, even an infant that you think can’t understand. And even more so, having conversations with your child. Children from low income or families where there is not high educational attainment hear a much smaller number of words by the time they get to kindergarten.”

The Brigance screener used this year is slightly different than the one piloted last school year, so officials warn against measuring the results against each other. Last year fewer than 30 percent of students were kindergarten ready statewide. This year’s results include data showing where students were before entering kindergarten. 

The options are state-funded preschool, Head Start program, childcare, home, other and unknown.