Chicago Public Schools has updated this spring’s Kindergarten Readiness  Tool, an assessment that aims to make the transition to kindergarten  smoother for preschoolers by giving parents and kindergarten teachers  information on what children have learned.

The biggest change to this year’s assessment is an expanded math section. (A recent evaluation of the Illinois Early Childhood Block Grant showed that students who attended Preschool for All programs outside of Chicago did not show any significant growth in their math skills.)

Among the new math skills covered:

  • Answering multiple-choice questions about a simple bar graph
  • Selecting objects from a set based on their characteristics, such as like size, order in a line, or weight
  • Figuring out how many objects are pictured on a page without counting them
  • Naming shapes and making patterns
  • Measuring with manipulatives

Burley Elementary Preschool for All teacher Imara Randall says the new math section is useful; plus, the scoring guidelines in some questions are more specific and less subjective this year.

“You do get a better sense of how your children are doing,” Randall says, compared to other assessments like the kindergarten report card. The assessment also allows teachers to be specific about their child’s progress, and areas in which parents can work with their child over the summer before kindergarten.

CPS Deputy Chief Early Childhood Education Officer Paula Cottone said in an email that the simplified scoring and additional items on the assessment were the result of teacher feedback.

“We are working towards creating additional training materials on data use” for kindergarten teachers, Cottone wrote. (Last fall, a number of kindergarten teachers were not aware of the data’s existence or how to access it).

In this year’s  assessment training video, Office of Early Childhood Education chief Barbara Bowman said that last year’s results showed preschoolers enter kindergarten knowing basic number concepts and how to print their name, and with “mastery of listening comprehension, story retelling, and basic problem-solving, as well as addition and subtraction with concrete objects.”

“However, our children were less proficient on letter sounds, rhyming, and sorting by more than one attribute,” Bowman added.

Other changes to the tool:

*It is longer, with 56 scored questions, up from 42 last year. (Some of the 56 questions have sub-parts that are now scored individually, for a total of more than 90 scored items.)

* A new section that asks preschoolers to match words that have the same beginning sounds

*New questions to determine whether children know the meaning of punctuation, as well as print awareness (such as where on a page to begin reading).

*The section that asks children to tell a story now gives them a picture as a prompt, rather than just a question about their experiences. A new scoring scale asks teachers to rate children’s responses based on specific criteria like the number of adjectives and the number and complexity of sentences in the response.

*Some sections of the assessment are now designed to be done in small groups instead of one-on-one, perhaps a reaction to complaints last year that the assessment took too long to administer.

Randall says using small groups –in which two or three students listen to directions and mark answers on their own sheets – has been challenging because teachers have to ensure that children don’t copy each others’ answers.

“It’s a natural thing to do. If you’re not sure, you look around,” she says.

Time is also a concern. Randall has spent 20 minutes out of each half-day class assessing students for the last two weeks, and still isn’t finished.

“It’s logistically a nightmare,” Randall says.”The entry of the data, you have to do on your own at home. That’s a lot of personal time taken.”

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