Archive for January, 2011

A powerful education reform tool – kindergarten readiness data

This is a guest blog post by Bonnie Beukema, Assistant Director for Outcomes and Accountability at the Department of Early Learning. Bonnie was previously the former deputy director at LEV.

What gets measured gets done. Nothing speaks truer or gets us closer to achieving meaningful results for children.

In my years working to implement education reform, I’ve had one simple question running through my head like an ongoing news ticker – How can we prevent this? As LEV illustrated in the 2011 Citizens’ Report Card, the data is daunting and the problems feel intractable. Too many students drop out. The achievement gap is persistent, unconscionable and, in many cases, widening. Too many children are still learning to read at age 8 and beyond. Yes we can do better and we must. We also need to tackle the problems sooner.

Understanding whether or not children are ready to succeed when they walk through the kindergarten door is one of the most difficult questions to answer in this state.  Washington only begins to collect consistent student progress data at the end of 3rd grade.  By the time the state reports this data, the students are buying school supplies for 4th grade. Unfortunately we know this is too late.

That’s where WaKIDS comes in. For the first time, the Department of Early Learning (DEL) and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) have statewide kindergarten assessment information across multiple domains of child development and achievement and a plan for statewide implementation.  We’re excited to share some of this data today.

First, a little background:

This past year, DEL and OSPI have partnered together to pilot a kindergarten readiness transition process -Washington Kindergarten Inventory on Developing Skills (WaKIDS)- that allows families, kindergarten teachers and early learning professionals to gather and share information about incoming kindergarteners. WaKIDS is up and running throughout the 2010-2011 school year in 115 classrooms around the state, with approximately 2,600 kindergarteners. Click to see the report from DEL and OSPI about how the pilot was designed and implemented, and recommendations for next steps.

WaKIDS is very unique. In fact, it is the only kindergarten transition process across the country to include three fundamental components that:

  1. Empower the family by having a teacher-family meeting where they discuss items such as the language spoken in the home, family traditions, and a child’s likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses
  2. Understand whole child development with a kindergarten assessment tool that measures across four developmental domains:
    • Social and emotional development
    • Cognition and general knowledge
    • Language, communication and literacy
    • Physical well-being, health and motor development
  3. Breaks down the wall between early care and education and kindergarten whereby early learning professionals and teachers meet throughout the year to share information about children and ideas to ease the transition.

Now for some data:

Because this is a pilot, we are testing three different assessment tools: Teaching Strategies GOLD, Pearson Work Sampling System, and CTB/McGraw Hill Developing Skills Checklist. Each teacher is using one tool so we can better understand which tools provide information that best informs instruction and supports student success. The final tool will be selected at the end of the school year.  I have included data from the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment below. Click here to see the preliminary data report for all assessment tools submitted by UW.

The preliminary results illustrate what many educators and policymakers have believed for years – a dangerously high percentage of children arrive to school unprepared.  More specifically, the data suggests that more than a third of those children participating in WaKIDS enter kindergarten below expected skill levels. In the area of language, communication, and literacy, nearly half of the children enter with skills below the expected grade level. These differences are even more startling for economically disadvantaged children, pointing to the continued need for accessible, high quality early learning programs for low income children and families.

The data below is from the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment. The kindergarten expectations are skills expected to be attained by children throughout the kindergarten year. Data illustrates that most children are below standard three of the four domains (physical, cognitive and language). The percentage of children below standard in the cognitive/general knowledge domain is particularly high at 74%.

Children eligible for free and reduced price lunch (185% of FPL) demonstrated lower than expected skill levels in three of the four domains:

  • Social and emotional – a 17% gap
  • Cognitive and general knowledge – a 25% gap, and
  • Language, communication and literacy – a 24% gap.

Children eligible for free and reduced price lunch (185% of FPL) outperform children not eligible for free and reduced price lunch on physical, health and motor skills by 16%.

DEL and OSPI are working hard to secure resources to continue and enhance WaKIDS. OSPI is drafting legislation that would amend Full Day Kindergarten RCW 28A.150.315 to phase in WaKIDS voluntarily beginning next fall, with mandatory participation beginning in the 2012-13 school year. This proposal would cost approximately $1.5 million during the 11-13 biennium. OSPI and DEL are currently seeking funding from private foundations. The state funding required to implement this proposal would be roughly $1 million.

For more information about WaKIDS, visit

Posted in: Early Learning

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