Using Assessments to Tailor Kindergarten Instruction


November 12, 2014


Portrait of Fiona Helsel
REL Northwest Deputy Director Fiona Helsel

Kindergartners arrive on the first day of school with a wide range of skills. For some kids, kindergarten will continue their earlier school experiences; for others, it will be their introduction to formal education.

One way for schools and kindergarten teachers to tailor instruction to meet the needs of individual students is through using data from a kindergarten entry assessment (KEA). Though KEAs differ by state, and are not necessarily designed to be formative in nature, they are generally brief assessments that, for example, look at students’ ability to identify letters and count. They also ideally assess a student’s social-emotional and physical skills in order to determine a child’s readiness for school.

According to REL Northwest’s Fiona Helsel, who will be leading a team of experts in a free webinar on KEAs next week, “KEAs can provide teachers information about what their incoming children know and are able to do in each developmental domain. However, it can be difficult to assess children in developmentally appropriate ways. Sometimes young children don’t test well and the assessment scores in each domain may be lower than is actually the case for that child.”

Jana Martella, co-director of comprehensive technical assistance Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) who is presenting during the webinar, sees KEAs as part of comprehensive assessment systems that can benefit teachers who are shaping their instructional practice, as well as other stakeholders ranging from policymakers to parents.

“One of the biggest challenges,” Martella says, “is putting assessment out front, independent of other components of the system. Assessment shouldn’t be driving standards and professional learning but instead should be used in assuring they are in alignment. Where assessment is most helpful is when it creates the opportunity to document a child’s progress and show how they are doing. Authentic assessment is a big part of early learning and should be part of the full continuum of early childhood education.”

Helsel sees the recent increased focus on kindergarten as a double-edged sword. “As states move toward full-day kindergarten, it has pushed the curriculum down and made kindergarten more academic. For kids who didn’t go to preschool, this is their first foray into formal schooling, and kindergarten lays the groundwork for subsequent grades. What kindergarten can do is help to level the playing field so all kids have a chance as they advance in school.”

Join REL Northwest for a free webinar, "Using Assessments To Improve Transitions to Kindergarten," on Wednesday. November 19, 2014. Learn more and register now.