A Tale of Kindergarten Readiness Assessments and An Intense Desire to Know

Camille LemieuxCamille Lemieux provides technical assistance to three Institute of Education Sciences (IES)-funded regional educational laboratories (RELs): REL Northeast & Islands, REL Appalachia, and REL Midwest. Prior to joining EDC, Camille served as a research fellow for the International Network for Action Research in Education. As an undergraduate research assistant at Lake Forest College, she worked on projects concerning comparative and international education policy. She also conducted classroom-based research in The Ohio State University’s Summer Research Opportunities Program, and collected data for a Lake Forest College Digital Chicago project that explored the link between housing discrimination policies and education inequalities. In this blog post, Camille describes how her experience conducting research for Digital Chicago led her to track down an oft-quoted, yet elusive statistic on the number of states with Kindergarten Readiness Assessments. In addition to sharing her findings, she encourages fellow researchers to think about how they can make their findings most useful to the public, including creating online resources that can be updated quickly.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 authorized the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (RTT—ELC). The RTT—ELC grants are to be put toward the creation and implementation of quality early learning programs, services, and assessments. The initiative has sparked notable action in many U.S. states, regardless of whether they receive the RTT—ELC grant. One common occurrence is the rise in statewide kindergarten entry assessments (KEAs) and kindergarten readiness assessments (KRAs). The National Education Goals Panel highlighted the following purposes of these assessments: to support learning, to identify children with special needs, to evaluate and monitor early learning programs, and to implement high-stakes accountability measures.

The terms “KEA” and “KRA” have connotative differences that sometimes inspire worry. Will children who fail an “entry” assessment be denied access to kindergarten? Are some children inherently “ready” or "not ready" for kindergarten? These differences are rooted not in semantics but in the misuse of the assessments’ results. Both terms generally refer to tools intended to measure some aspect(s) of a child’s developmental state. The tools differ in validity, reliability, content, and implementation­. Some tools are intended to be a snapshot of child development (see California’s DRDP), while others focus on only one developmental area (see Wisconsin’s Assessment of Reading Readiness).

Throughout this article, I use the term “KRA” when referring to any kindergarten assessment tool aimed to quantify a child’s “school readiness,” “skill,” “ability,” or “developmental level.” Several states use commercially developed KRAs. Teaching Strategies GOLD is a popular choice. Other states use tools they developed internally, such as New Mexico’s Kindergarten Observation Tool and Alaska’s Developmental Profile.

What’s missing from many resources concerning these assessments is an updated view of the implementation nationwide. My journey into the world of KRAs began with Uses and Misuses of Kindergarten Readiness Assessment Results, published on February 22, 2017. The authors claim, “reports have estimated that 43 states have [kindergarten readiness] assessments…” I wondered what the other seven states were up to and if any changes had occurred since the publication’s release.

Why the Number 43 Sparked my Intense Desire to Know
My early research experiences in college made me feel like I was diving down rabbit holes in efforts to trace facts and figures back to their original source. In my junior year, our research team set out to determine exactly how widespread Chicago’s racial restrictive covenants were during the 19th and 20th centuries. Multiple scholars in the field claimed that at least 75% of the city had racial restrictive covenants at the height of that housing practice.

Determining an accurate count of racial restrictive covenants in Chicago was and is no easy feat. Each covenant is written in its respective land agreement, which is housed within a 50-page book. Each book is shelved alongside over 900 such books in the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office. Rather than plunging through some 45,000 pages, most scholars prefer to either study a small area of the city or reference the citywide estimation readily available. My supervisor at the time did not fit into the category of “most scholars.”

Turning page after page for hours on end in the Cook County Recorder of Deeds office instilled in me the patience to satisfy my intense desire to know. When I read that 43 states were using KRAs, my first instinct was to trace the figure back to its source through the references. The following two sources were cited in regard to that figure: GG Weisenfeld’s “Using Teaching Strategies GOLD® within a Kindergarten Entry Assessment System” and CEELO’s “Kindergarten Entry Assessments: Common Measures and Consortia Efforts.”

Weisenfeld’s resource answered a specific request for information about Teaching Strategies GOLD. The resource does not mention how many states use KRAs, and the second resource cited led to a 404-error page. One recent CEELO assessment resource written by Weisenfeld is a “national scan on the current assessment tools that are used in states to assess the development of children at kindergarten entry.” The resource does not, however, include information on all 50 states.

Indulging in the Intense Desire to Know
What’s an individual to do when staring into the face of a 404-error page? My intense desire to know led to tumbles down rabbit holes in efforts to find up-to-date information about the current status of KRAs nationwide. A few weeks into the casual searches, I came across this mapping tool.

Inspired by the tool, but still feeling the need to satisfy my own curiosity (just to be sure), I checked each state board of education’s website for updates on its KRA or lack thereof. The map below is a compilation of the information I found. The states colored green on the map have one statewide KRA (hover over the state to see the name of the KRA), while the states colored yellow did not report having a KRA on their state board of education website. States colored blue indicated that they use more than one KRA. Click here to explore my full data dashboard, with links to respective pages and reports for each state.

Based on my small investigation, 42 states are implementing a KRA. Five states (Kansas, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, and Tennessee) have plans to implement a statewide KRA in the near future. Three states (Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) did not indicate plans to utilize KRAs.

Reports are, by nature, snapshots of situations. When situations change faster than resources can be revised, online resources that can be easily and quickly updated are likely more fruitful than traditional reports. As researchers, the choices we make in presenting our data have wide implications, some of which may not be known for several years after publication. What can we do to keep our information updated and easily accessible? Should we count on our audience to take their own journeys into satisfying their intense desires to know?


Wednesday, September 20, 2017 - 9:00am