Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

States applying for funds from the $500 million federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge must address how they assess – or plan to assess – children at entry to kindergarten, according to draft criteria released earlier this month.

For a look at how states conduct kindergarten assessments, check out the August 2010 survey from National Conference of State Legislatures, “State Approaches to School Readiness Assessment,” complete with maps and charts. Although it is now a year out-of-date, the report still provides a good overview of the various approaches states employ. At the time of its publication, 25 states had universal kindergarten assessments, four states were either rolling out or developing assessments, and 21 states, including Massachusetts, had no universal kindergarten assessment.

In Massachusetts, implementing a, statewide kindergarten readiness assessment is part of the mandate of the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), which was created in 2005. EEC and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have been working on a developmentally appropriate tool that will include both language and social-emotional development. Currently, the third grade MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) is the first statewide assessment of children’s progress. With research showing that third grade reading skill is a strong predictor of children’s chances of future success, earlier assessments would help inform instruction and guide policy and resource allocation before the critical third grade benchmark.

“Those in the early childhood field,” the national report states, “concur that school readiness involves many areas of a child’s development, yet states are almost equally divided on whether assessments given in kindergarten are comprehensive or limited only to reading.”

Here are some highlights of the report’s findings on the variety of practices in the 25 states with universal kindergarten assessment: