CPS is one of more than 30 districts piloting a new three-times-a-year state assessment for kindergarteners, known as the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey.

Bridging the gap between preschool and kindergarten has become a key concern for policymakers, particularly as they look at how to build on the gains students make in preschool. Providing more detailed information on children’s progress to kindergarten teachers, parents and schools is one of the assessment’s goals.

The state is planning to have all kindergarteners take part by fall 2015. This year, just 30 CPS kindergarten classrooms are participating, part of about 200 around the state. The assessment is based on the Desired Results Developmental Profile – School Readiness, which was developed by WestEd, the California Department of Education and the University of California—Berkeley.

 California began using the assessment this year. One goal is helping teachers target their instruction at students’ specific levels. Another is targeting kindergarten programs that need extra help providing quality instruction.

KIDS will cover the following areas:

*English language development
*Social development
*Self-regulation (behavior)
*Language and literacy development, including in a child’s native language
*Math development

 Children will be rated in each area as Exploring, Developing, Building, Integrating or Applying.

 Teachers are asked to assess students 40 days and 105 days into the school year, and at the end of the year. The state plans to use feedback from teachers to tweak the assessment before it becomes a requirement.

 Assessing children’s strengths, weaknesses

 Instead of testing students outright, KIDS asks teachers to observe students and then rate them on specific skills.

“This assessment is designed to provide teachers with critical information about a child’s development to assist in building an individualized program for our students,” said CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler. “The input from CPS teachers and building leaders is vital to the development and implementation of such an assessment.”

A presentation by the Illinois State Board of Education stresses that it’s not a one-time snapshot of a student’s readiness for kindergarten. Nor is it “an assessment that teachers have to stop for 2 weeks to administer.” The goal is to help kindergarten teachers understand students’ strengths and weaknesses, rather than label them as meeting or not meeting a standard.

Cindy Zumwalt, early childhood division administrator at the Illinois State Board of Education, said at a recent Illinois Early Learning Council meeting that the KIDS should be done through “typical activities in the classroom.”

 The assessment requires teachers to gather observable data to that backs up a teacher’s rating of a child on each of 30 different measures.

“It also is intended to link preschool, kindergarten and early elementary, to support school-family partnerships, and assist in providing data for program improvement,” Zumwalt says.

 Frank Mandera, principal of Dorothy Simon Elementary in Winnebago Community Unit School District 323, says that while KIDS is “a very good assessment,” teachers are finding the assessment eats up classroom and prep time.

 One reason is that teachers have to make sure their classroom activities let them observe where students are in certain areas. “Nothing is actually done for the teachers. The teachers have to create everything, and have it line up to the assessment,” he says.

 Another factor is that the act of observing students to assess them – which is considered a good practice in early childhood education – does take up time a teacher could spend on teaching. “Our teachers have tried to program that into the day, 15 minutes a day just to do the observations of kids,” he says.

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