The early learning experiences that children in South Carolina encounter vary significantly. Early care and learning settings are fragmented in South Carolina due to a variety of funding streams, mandates, and standards by which they are measured.
A statewide definition and description of school readiness that is connected to early learning and K-12 standards and that early care and learning stakeholders agree upon is essential to unifying the diverse early care and learning system.
To begin to put this conceptual definition and common language into action, several states are working on a specific type of school readiness measure, the kindergarten entry assessment. Kindergarten is the first point in which virtually all children in South Carolina are located in a single setting. Kindergarten entry assessments are used to look backward—as a tool to improve programs to promote school readiness and to look forward—to ensure that children continue to grow and learn once they enter school. ICS supports the use of kindergarten entry assessments because when South Carolina measures school readiness statewide and uses that data to continually improve experiences for young children, we will prepare children for school and ensure they succeed once they get there.
Using a kindergarten entry assessment provides many benefits, including:
- To better understand and address achievement gaps earlier in children’s development.
- To provide valuable information about the experiences children had prior to entering school.
- To serve as a baseline for kindergarten instruction and for measuring future progress.
- To help provide information about young children who move among schools or from one district to another.
- To improve instruction and enhance learning in kindergarten at the individual level.
- To determine the extent to which children at the aggregate level are ready for school and identify populations that need additional intervention.
- To help the state and local communities determine what policies and practices are impacting school readiness.
There are many considerations when deciding on a kindergarten entry assessment. It is essential that the assessment be developmentally appropriate. Therefore, South Carolina must avoid inappropriate uses of assessment information, including as the sole indicator of early childhood program performance in high-stake decisions, labeling children, restricting kindergarten entry, or predicting children’s future successes.
Additionally, ongoing training, quality assurance mechanisms, and continual evaluation are essential to implement and sustain a statewide kindergarten entry assessment. Without these assurances, there is no way to ensure kindergarten entry assessments are implemented properly and that data are used consistently, accurately, and appropriately.
Other key considerations include:
- Statewide kindergarten entry assessments alone do not provide a complete picture of how to continually improve early care and learning opportunities for children.
- An assessment must be linked to the standards being taught in kindergarten.
- Nationally, the trend is to assess all entering kindergarteners rather than using a random sample of students. The approach of using a random sample significantly limits the usefulness of a kindergarten entry assessment for teachers and parents. However using a random sample of students makes the assessment significantly less expensive to administer.
- Kindergarten entry assessment data are most useful when the data are reported at the state level and connected with other data about similarly situated children.
To learn more about why ICS supports using kindergarten entry assessments, considerations for selecting an assessment and identified next steps for South Carolina, visit https://www.instituteforchildsuccess.org/publications.php.