Kindergarten, here we come

MARSHALL – Bring on kindergarten.

According to a Minnesota Department of Education study, more Minnesota children entering kindergarten are prepared for success since the inception of the study in 2002. The MDE says almost 73 percent of children were determined to be ready for kindergarten, up from 60 percent in 2010.

“We hear from teachers all the time that the best thing they can get as a kindergarten teacher is children who are ready to learn,” said Josh Collins, director of communications for the MDE. “This shows that since 2010 we’ve increased the readiness of children going into kindergarten from 60 percent to almost three-fourths. That’s some real progress we’re seeing. But it also tells us we have a lot of work left to do.”

A child who is found to be ready for kindergarten is considered on track for meeting achievement targets on the third grade Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, the MDE said. The study showed kindergartners demonstrated increased proficiency over previous years in all five learning domains of school readiness, including: physical development, the arts, personal and social development, language and literacy, and mathematical thinking.

Each year, MDE assesses the school readiness of Minnesota’s children during the first eight weeks of kindergarten by classroom teachers with a statewide representative sample of children entering kindergarten. The method uses a 75 percent proficiency target on all five learning domains of school readiness to establish a statewide percentage of fully-prepared kindergartners. The research method was validated three years ago by the Human Capital Research Collaborative, a partnership of the University of Minnesota and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota.

“Students who have access to high quality early learning are more likely to start school fully prepared and then stay on track academically,” Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a news release from MDE. “Our focus has been on widening access to high quality early learning for all kids and aligning those programs with schools. Today’s announcement shows that more students are benefiting – and will continue to benefit – from our approach and the investments we are making.”

According to the MDE, the study is designed to capture a picture of the readiness of Minnesota children as they enter kindergarten and track readiness trends over time.

To ensure results are reliable and can be generalized to the entire population of kindergartners, the study uses a 10 percent sample of schools with entering kindergartners. This sample size generates data from approximately 6,000 kindergartners annually.

The study uses the Work Sampling System (WSS), a developmentally appropriate, standards-based observational assessment that allows children to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in various ways and across developmental domains.

Each domain and developmental indicator within the WSS Developmental Checklist includes expected behaviors for children at that age or grade level.

For each indicator, teachers used the following guidelines to rate the child’s performance:

Proficient – indicating that the child can reliably and consistently demonstrate the skill, knowledge, behavior or accomplishment represented by the performance indicator.

In Process – indicating that the skill, knowledge, behavior or accomplishment represented by the indicator are intermittent or emergent and are not demonstrated reliably or consistently.

Not Yet – indicating that the child cannot perform the indicator (i.e., the performance indicator represents a skill, knowledge, behavior or accomplishment not yet acquired).

Because children’s rate of development is variable, the study assesses children’s proficiency within and across the developmental domains.

Categories for each rating level were distributed to teachers at the start of the study and provided by the publisher and revised in 2009. They provide additional detail for each indicator for a Not Yet, In Process or Proficient rating.

“The data we’re looking at here really kind of validates and tells us what we’re investing now is going to the right place,” Collins said. “This administration has put $40 million this biennium into early learning scholarships to help support families and give them access to high-quality programs. All of the data show that children are ready for kindergarten and are on track to have success as they move into school.”

Collins said that $40 million, which was granted as part of the 2013 legislative education bill, addresses only about 9 percent of the need. He said it brings the MDE to 2003 funding levels “after about a decade of (the state) not continuing to invest. We’ve really started to turn the ship, but we have a lot of ground to make up.”

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were less likely to be fully prepared for kindergarten than their more advantaged peers, a finding that is echoed in the first School Readiness Report Card, released by the Wilder Foundation in November.

“We want to see every child ready for kindergarten,” said Collins. “We know there are challenges to that – poverty, lack of access to some of the high-quality programs. We want to make sure we continue to look at ways to counteract some of those barriers.”