Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Kindergarten entry assessment is a key – and sometimes controversial – component of the federal Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (ELC) initiative. The central question is how to conduct systemic, developmentally appropriate assessment of young children and use the results to inform instruction.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers some guidance in a recent  report, “Developing Kindergarten Readiness and Other Large-Scale Assessment Systems: Necessary Considerations in the Assessment of Young Children.” Massachusetts, one of nine states to win an ELC grant, is developing a kindergarten entry assessment as part of its Massachusetts Early Learning Plan.

“Assessment with young children compared with older children requires very different considerations in terms of how it is conducted and used,” NAEYC Executive Director Jerlean E. Daniel says in a news release. “Having reliable information on how children are doing in all areas of cognitive, social and emotional development is the key to good education both before and after kindergarten assessments.”

The kindergarten entry assessment, NAEYC notes, should be viewed as a baseline snapshot, followed by ongoing assessments that help kindergarten teachers “target and recalibrate” instruction over the course of the year. The entry assessment, NAEYC cautions, should not be used to determine eligibility for kindergarten.

The report offers an overview of key issues in building an assessment system:

The report outlines “considerations and caveats” for developing an early childhood assessment system, including recommendations on data analysis, English language learners, cost, training of assessors, administration and timeliness of results.

“Early childhood assessment systems, properly developed and implemented, can contribute greatly to the success of early childhood programs,” the NAEYC report concludes. “Systems that effectively screen for follow-up children at risk for developmental delays can identify young and very young children for intervention services. Systems that inform a teacher’s instruction better allow for targeted instruction and support to further children’s learning and development. Systems that provide a portrait of skills children have as they enter public school systems can inform curriculum decisions. And assessments that can provide evidence of growth tied to participating in programs can guide implementation and policy decisions. Effective early childhood assessment systems exist within a larger early childhood system that provides programs to young children and supports teachers’ professional growth.”