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What's a face-to-face test look like when you can't be face-to-face? Kindergarten readiness in a pandemic

Like everything else in a COVID-19 world, a key assessment tool about kindergarten preparedness is going to look very different this year.

Since 2017, the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey has determined how much early education has a hand in kindergarten readiness, and in turn how funding is allocated. But as the numbers released Monday show three straight years of statewide increases, the implementation this year is going to be very different.

“It’s not about accountability or placement or evaluation,” said Jackie Matthews, director of external communications for the Illinois State Board of Education. “It’s just an observational tool for the state to use to better understand early learning experiences students have when they go to school for the first time.”

The main change in KIDS this year will be an extension of the 40-day observation window, which the Illinois State Board of Education said is planning on being extended through the end of June. ISBE made the change official on Thursday after releasing results from 2019 on Monday.

The 2019 results showed 29% tested kindergartners in the state on track in all three areas – social-emotional development, math and language. That’s up from 24% in 2018 and 26% in 2018.

According to the data, 91% of kindergartners in the state were fully assessed by KIDS. The test identifies 14 state readiness measures in the three larger categories to paint a picture of readiness at the beginning of kindergarten.

Amy Luckner, assessment, research, and multi-tiered system of support coordinator with DeKalb District 428, said she thinks the tests have great value to both the district and the state. But she said she’s worried about what the increased window for testing will do.

“You will probably have an increased variance this year as opposed to the 40-day timeline,” Luckner said. “The real goal of this is to assess what skill they are coming to us with when they enter kindergarten. It has driven a lot of community initiative around age 3-5 development.”

Sycamore Superintendent Steven Wilder said he was also skeptical about the reliability of the results this year. He said there’s an issue with how the test is administered when some districts in Illinois are fully remote, while others are in school at least some of the time.

“The other piece is if you are not able to give the assessment at the same time or in a small window it skews the data,” Wilder said. “You’re comparing how one student did in September and how another did in October or even November. The student who took the test later has already picked up some skills.”

Luckner said the test is a key determining factor in how districts allocate funds – if the test show early development is working, districts are more likely to spend more money in that area.

The test is required, Matthews said, but she stressed it’s a no-stakes assessment.

“Teachers have never been penalized for not observing on all 14 measures,” Matthews said. “It’s important to have data this year for the impact everything has had on student learning and what the learning curve is in these different learning environments in the fall. So we [lifted] the deadline of when these are due back to ISBE. So blended districts might only observe when they are in person. There is time to do that.”

Lisa Gorchels, head of the Early Learning and Development Center in DeKalb, said the district was a pilot program for the KIDS test and said it showed what a difference early learning can make.

She said she’s not sure what the 2020 numbers will end up showing.

“If amount of work is any indicator, I would at least say they’ll stay stable,” Gorchels said. “Teachers, parents, everyone are putting in an incredible amount of work. But really I have no idea. To use a term that is kind of overused, but it’s true, this is unprecedented. We have no idea what kind of effect this will have on any grade level.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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