Every year, about 37,000 children start kindergarten in public schools across Kansas.
Some can read independently, write a sentence and count to 100 or beyond. Others can’t identify colors, write their name, tell you where they live or count to 10.
“That’s a gap we see every day in Kansas schools,” said Education Commissioner Randy Watson.
Measuring that gap and identifying a child’s precise starting line – assessing where he or she is developmentally in the areas of communication, problem-solving, social skills and more – is the next order of business for state education leaders.
Last week, the Kansas Board of Education approved moving forward with a plan to adopt a statewide measurement tool to collect data on students entering kindergarten.
Under the plan, teachers would ask parents or caregivers to fill out a brief questionnaire about their child as the student is about to start kindergarten.
Teachers could use the results to guide instruction or pinpoint delays that might require further testing. State officials would use it to more accurately measure progress and target resources, said Tammy Mitchell, assistant director for early childhood, special education and title services for the Kansas Department of Education.
“We really just need to know how many students are showing up to kindergarten ready, developmentally, and how many are not,” Mitchell said.
Currently, she said, Kansas districts “are all over the board” in terms of measuring kindergarten readiness. “There is no consistent way of collecting that kind of data.”
Ages and stages
Schools in 37 districts, including Derby and Maize, participated in a pilot project last year that featured the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, a screening tool produced by Maryland-based Brookes Publishing Co. that pinpoints developmental progress in children up to 5 1/2 years old.
The copyrighted questionnaire, which has been used for decades by pediatricians, child care centers and preschools, gauges a child’s level of development in the areas of communication, gross- and fine-motor skills, problem solving and personal-social skills. A second questionnaire focuses on social and emotional milestones.
One question shows circles of different sizes and asks whether a child can point to the smallest circle. Parents can answer “yes,” “sometimes” or “not yet.”
Another question asks whether a child can finish a sentence using a word that means the opposite. For example: “A cow is big, and a mouse is …?” or “Ice is cold, and fire is …?”
Other questions target gross motor skills, such as throwing and catching, and fine motor skills, such as using scissors to cut paper in a straight line. Open-ended questions ask parents whether they have particular concerns about their child’s hearing, vision, speech or behavior.
“It’s really a friendly way of having a conversation about a child so that the teacher learns more about the child, the parent learns to trust the teacher, and they’re working together to get the best possible information,” Mitchell said.
Kansas ‘on the forefront’
Amy Perkins Clause, marketing manager for Brookes Publishing, said Kansas is “kind of on the forefront” of using the Ages and Stages Questionnaire as a tool for measuring kindergarten readiness statewide.
Most states or organizations, including the Kansas Initiative for Developmental Ongoing Screening (KIDOS), uses it to track developmental progress of younger children, usually birth to age 3.
This spring, state officials will issue a request for proposals for the Ages and Stages Questionnaire or similar products, Mitchell said. She said it’s not yet clear how much a statewide tool would cost, but the state plans to seek a grant to pay for it.
If a contract is approved, materials could be shipped to every Kansas elementary school this summer and training would begin, Mitchell said. The state’s “very aggressive tentative timeline” calls for training throughout next school year and the first official data collection in the fall of 2018.
Members of the state’s kindergarten readiness work group, which recommended a statewide measurement tool, said it would not be used to keep children out of kindergarten or to say certain children aren’t ready for school.
“We want children to come to kindergarten when they’re 5,” Mitchell said.
“At the state level, we want to help inform policy and funding for early learning, and we want to be able to have those data-driven conversations. That’s really the heart of it,” she said.
“If we can find a tool … that gives the state the data that we need and also gives teachers a rich repertoire of resources, then we think that’s a win-win. We don’t want people to do this because it’s just another thing to check off of their list of things to do for the state. We want it to have local value as well.”