whole child

New kindergarten assessments voluntary this year, mandatory next year

Teacher at a professional development session.

On a recent Wednesday morning, Lori Sabian asked the two dozen teachers and principals seated before her what they had heard about Teaching Strategies GOLD, the early childhood assessment she would be training them on for the rest of the day.

Sensing hesitation, she added a reassurance: “This is a room of truth,” she said.

Then one teacher piped up with the advice she’d been given: “Run, run run!”

It was by no means the only opinion about the online tool, but it summed up the trepidation that many kindergarten teachers feel as they prepare to pilot the “school readiness assessment” this year in advance of mandatory statewide implementation next year.

This broad implementation — one component of a six-year-old school reform law — comes against the backdrop of ongoing concerns about the state’s “testing burden” as well as questions about the security of student data. It also unfolds on the heels of new K-3 literacy assessments required under the READ Act.

Even the educators who are excited about using Teaching Strategies GOLD to tailor instruction or provide better feedback to parents admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the time-consuming task ahead of them. One teacher at the recent training in Evans asked Sabian for something of a pep talk as she wondered how she would assess the nearly 40 students in her two half-day kindergarten classes.

“Can you just say something to keep me positive?” she asked.

Others in the room were more circumspect.

“We’ve always done assessment. We’ve always done data collection. And this just feels like a nice model that pulls everything together,” said Julie Claeys, assistant elementary principal and K-12 assessment coordinator for Union Colony Preparatory School in Greeley.

“Yes, it’s going to be a lot of work to learn but I’m really grateful that we have this first year where messing up isn’t fatal.”

Where did it come from?

Across the country, states are increasingly adopting school readiness assessments, also called Kindergarten Entry Assessments. In Colorado, the mandate was born out of a major piece of school reform legislation passed in 2008—the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, or CAP4K.

The color bar system used in TS GOLD indicates what age most students are expected to achieve various developmental tasks. Purple represents what kids should know in kindergarten.
The color bar system used in TS GOLD indicates what age most students are expected to achieve various developmental tasks. Purple represents what kids should know in kindergarten.

The law required that all kindergarteners have an “individualized readiness plan” informed by a valid, reliable and research-based school readiness assessment. While the law included no funding for the assessments, the state is using $1.2 million from its $44 million federal Race to the Top grant to cover implementation costs.

For state leaders, school readiness assessments like TS GOLD represent a more effective way to track and address the many domains of child development. These include social-emotional, cognitive, language and physical development, as well as academics such as literacy and math.

“If we have a great assessment system that addresses the whole child that way, I think it’s going to inform practice and start to give kids a better foundation,” said Sharon Triolo-Moloney, director of the Office of Early Learning and School Readiness at the Colorado Department of Education.

Claeys described the information provided by TS GOLD, saying, “It’s like having an [Individual Education Plan] for every kid,” referring to plans for students with special needs.

Unlike other kinds of standardized tests, most kids won’t even know they’re “taking” a school readiness assessment like TS GOLD. That’s because it involves a year-long process of observation and documentation of what students are doing in the normal order of their school day. This might mean counting to 100, retelling the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” resolving a squabble with peers, or using a quiet voice when visiting the library.

For the most part, the burden of completing the assessment rests on teachers, who will be responsible for taking regular notes, photos and videos, uploading them to the TS GOLD platform and categorizing them appropriately. Three times a year—around Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day—there are “progress checkpoints” where teachers determine how students compare to other children of the same age.

Because it’s a system that punishes procrastinators, Sabian and other speakers at the training frequently warned teachers not to let data—say, photos of student work or sticky notes describing a teacher-student interaction—pile up without being entered online.

“Don’t let it stockpile,” said Emily Kielmayer, an early adopter from the Garfield School District, recounting her own trials with entering lots of data at the last minute.

At the same time, she talked enthusiastically about how TS GOLD helped her work with struggling students who’d simply scored zeroes on other assessments. With TS GOLD’s birth-kindergarten continuum, it was easier to find a jumping off point for instruction.

Gradual roll-out

Both last year and this year are voluntary phase-in years for TS GOLD, with an emphasis on experimentation and flexibility. For example, teachers can focus on just three or four of the nine developmental areas covered by TS GOLD, or assess only a handful of students instead of the whole class.

School readiness assessments under consideration
  • Riverside Early Assessments of Learning (REAL)
  • Work Sampling System (WSS)
  • Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP)
  • Kindergarten Early Learning Scale (K-ELS)

State officials estimate that nearly 1,200 teachers in 103 of the state’s 178 school districts will use TS GOLD this year. Starting next year, all Colorado kindergartners must be assessed, though leaders in some districts are hoping to be circumvent that requirement. Last winter, the conservative-leaning Jeffco Public Schools board of education voted to seek a waiver from TS GOLD’s use in  kindergarten.

While the state didn’t grant that waiver, district administrators are waiting to see what other school readiness assessments might be approved in advance of next year’s mandatory implementation. Four other assessments are currently under consideration, but a final decision isn’t expected from the State Board of Education until sometime this fall.

“I know there’s a big push for something that’s easier,” said Cheryl Caldwell, director of early education for Denver Public Schools.

Still, she doubted that quicker, easier assessments would look at the whole child in the comprehensive way that TS GOLD or similar assessments do.

As is typical for online assessment systems, TS GOLD charges a per-student fee—it’s around $9 in Colorado. This year, like last year, the state will cover those costs completely in implementing districts. Next year, the state will cover at least 60 percent of the costs; the following year, that number will drop to around 30 percent.

Many veteran users in the state

While TS GOLD may be new to most kindergarten teachers, a fair chunk of Colorado’s preschool workforce is already familiar with the assessment. That’s because it’s been used for two years, and sometimes longer, in classrooms funded by the Colorado Preschool Program or CPP. (Another approved tool—the Child Observation Record or COR—is used in about 9 percent of CPP classrooms.)

Ilona Witty, director of early childhood in the Salida School District, said her staff has used TS GOLD for five years to assess the district’s preschool students and the last three years for its toddlers. It was stressful at first, but the early childhood team gradually learned shortcuts that made the process more efficient, she said. Getting iPads helped too.

In Denver Public Schools, where around 300 kindergarten teachers will pilot TS GOLD with at least five students each this year, administrators believe preschool teachers will be a good resource for the kindergarten adopters. District officials also say they’ve focused on the purpose of the assessment at trainings this summer.

“We talked about the why…We didn’t just talk about here’s another test and here’s how you give it,” said Caldwell.

“It’s a tool that helps…teachers really understand development and how it happens,” she said.

While Witty knows some observers worry that TS GOLD has a monopoly in the Colorado market, she’s believes the assessment is a good one that provides valuable feedback about the district’s youngest students.

“It drives our planning, it drives our ordering. It drives our professional development,” she said. “Of course they’re making a ton of money…If the product wasn’t good, I’d probably be more up in arms”

Administrators in Salida like the assessment system so much they aren’t stopping with kindergarten. In the coming years, first, and second grade classrooms will begin using a new version of TS GOLD that’s designed for children through third grade. The existing version and the one coming out for older children align with Common Core State Standards.

Sharing the data

Among the benefits of TS GOLD that most excited teachers at the Evans training was its potential to give parents more information about their children’s progress and better engage them as educational partners. Kielmeyer noted that she’d replaced report cards and parent-teacher conference forms with reports generated by TS GOLD.

“I had the best parent-teacher conferences I’ve had in the last 10 years,” she said. “I had boxes of tissues because I had parents crying tears of joy. They were just amazed at what I had to share.”

While parents have the option of asking that their child not be photographed or videotaped as part of TS GOLD, Kielmeyer and others say parents often become more receptive as they learn how those types of data are used to document progress. In fact, teachers can even invite parents to contribute to the assessment using documentation they’ve collected.

In addition to replacing report cards, Kielmeyer  said that TS GOLD allowed the district to replace some of its former assessments because GOLD provided the same information. In Denver Public Schools, Caldwell said a committee is in the process of deciding whether such overlaps warrant the elimination of some assessments.

One unanswered question about TS GOLD is how the data will be used at the state level. Currently, aggregate preschool data from TS GOLD and the other approved assessment is collected through the state’s Results Matter system. A summary is published in the annual Colorado Preschool Program legislative report.

At least initially, Triolo-Moloney said there won’t be a comparable report for the state’s kindergarten cohort.

“Everybody’s chomping at the bit for that,” she said. “But we’re trying so hard to not do that because we really want teachers to be free to practice this thing.”

change of heart

Chicago school board backs down on ID policy but clings to limits on speakers

PHOTO: Elaine Chen
The Chicago Board of Education

Public visitors to the monthly Chicago Board of Education meetings will not be required to show ID to enter the meetings, despite a notice in the September agenda prominently displaying the rule.

“It is crucial for the board’s monthly public meetings to be open to all interested community members, and to ensure no barriers to participation exist, we are rescinding the photo ID requirement for tomorrow’s meeting and all future meetings,” Chicago schools’ spokesman Michael Passman said Tuesday.

The identification rule was not new, and no one had ever been denied entrance for failing to bring ID, according to Passman. But the Chicago Teachers Union and several community members complained when the September agenda was released earlier in the week, prominently displaying the rule front-and-center.

Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates called the ID requirement a “Jim Crow-era voter suppression” tactic that could “disenfranchise black voters and scare off undocumented residents.”

The board, however, is not planning to back down from another rule it also highlighted in the September agenda, according to Passman: That one prohibits public commenters from addressing the board two consecutive meetings in a row.

Similarly, the limit is not a new policy — in fact, it dates back to 1999. The board opted to spotlight it this month to deter consecutive speakers from signing up for speaking spots and then finding out later they would not be permitted to participate.

Chicago still requires public commenters to register before meetings and limits the number to 60. The two-minute spots usually fill up a day early. Same-day slots for observers who wish to attend but not participate are first-come first-serve.

Among the planned speakers on Wednesday is a group of parents who have written a letter of concern over a district policy requiring Local School Council members to undergo fingerprinting for a background check. They argue it deters participation from undocumented families. Chicago had nearly 200,000 undocumented residents in 2017, according to one demographer’s estimates.

listening tour

Estos padres quieren eliminar los obstáculos para hispanohablantes en las escuelas de Detroit

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
Un aguacero no pudo detener estas madres el martes. Asistieron una discusión sobre las escuelas en Detroit.

To read this story in English, click here.

Si te parece difícil navegar el sistema escolar de Detroit, imagínate como es cuando nadie habla tu idioma.

Una discusión el martes sobre los obstáculos que enfrentan los estudiantes que hablan español en Detroit dejó en claro que sus padres también se encuentran problemas parecidos.

Los padres que se presentaron en el edificio de Brilliant Detroit quieren apoyar a sus hijos mientras aprenden a leer y hablar en inglés, pero afirmaron que es mucho más difícil hacerlo cuando no se pueden comunicar con las escuelas.

“Uno siente que no tiene valor,” dijo Gloria Vera, hablando de sus interacciones con maestros angloparlantes. “Te sientes que tienes menos oportunidades para hacer preguntas. Yo por ejemplo me da miedo.”

Varias madres confesaron inquietudes sobre los efectos de la ley de lectura de Michigan, que podrá retrasar a estudiantes del tercer grado si su nivel de lectura no es suficientemente alto para el año que viene. Según una investigadora, un 70 por ciento de estudiantes que hablan español en Michigan podrán ser retrasados.

Una madre dijo que quiere apoyar a su hija mientras aprende a leer, pero se preocupaba que su propio nivel de inglés estaba demasiado bajo.

Otra, Delia Barba, sospecha que su hija tiene una discapacidad de aprendizaje, pero afirma que su escuela en el suroeste de Detroit, un barrio mayormente hispanohablante, todavía no la ha examinado.

Barba — como casi todos las madres que asistieron el evento — dijo que las escuelas deben contratar más empleados bilingües.

“No sabemos con quién hablar,” Barba dijo. “No hablan español.”

Chalkbeat, un periódico en linea que se enfoca en las escuelas de Detroit, está recorriendo la ciudad, preguntándoles a padres cuáles asuntos debemos investigar. Esta vez, Chalkbeat fue acompañado por organizaciones centradas en el barrio “Southwest.” Juntos, iniciamos una discusión con docenas de padres, mayormente madres hispanohablantes. Vinieron a la sede de Brilliant Detroit por la mañana, a pesar de un aguacero.

Algunas de las presentes ya habían colaborado con organizaciones locales como Congress of Communities y el Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation para insistir que los líderes del distrito de Detroit expanden acceso para familias que hablan español. Apuntaron que sus preguntas fueron ignorados por administraciones pasadas.

“Los residentes de la comunidad se sienten frustrados en 2018, porque han expresado la necesidad de acceso al idioma en repetidas ocasiones a lo largo de los años y una resolución es continuamente ignorada,” dijo Elizabeth Rojas, una organizadora que también es una madre del distrito. “Sabemos que los estudiantes se van de nuestra ciudad para asistir a los distritos escolares en los suburbios. Si fortalecemos nuestros servicios de idiomas, estamos seguros de que muchas más familias regresarán al distrito.”

En una reunión el mes pasado, el superintendente de escuelas Nikolai Vitti señaló que iba a establecer un “hotline” – linea telefónica – en español y que cada escuela con estudiantes que hablan español iba a contratar a un empleado hispanohablante en la oficina central, entre otras promesas.

Al recibir los resultados de una encuesta en el barrio, los padres ahora se están enfocando en la pregunta de seguridad en las escuelas. Esperan que las escuelas contratarán a más policías bilingües, y que padres que no tienen papeles serán permitidos entrar en las escuelas con una tarjeta de identificación alternativa, por ejemplo un pasaporte mexicano o un ID proporcionado por el mismo distrito.

El martes, los padres reportaron que también hay una falta de servicios bilingües en las escuelas “charter” en el suroeste de Detroit. Angelina Romero, quien llegó con su familia de México en los últimos años, se preocupaba que su hijo del primer grado no está aprendiendo inglés en una escuela “charter,” y que tenía dificultades en comunicarse con su maestra.

“Ojalá que las familias que asistieron este evento se dan cuenta que hay padres en otras escuelas y en otras partes de la ciudad que también quieren más servicios bilingües,” dijo Jametta Lilly, directora del Detroit Parent Network, uno de los anfitriones del evento.

Para Gloria Vera, fue aun más difícil navegar el sistema de educación especializada por la presencia de una barrera lingüística. Su hija recibió un diagnosis de autismo, pero cuando se presentó a la escuela le dijeron que no había suficiente espacio.

“Me dijeron, no puedes matricular tu hija aquí,” dijo Vera.

Le dieron un número de teléfono para llamar, pero Vera dudaba que la ayudara.

“No sabía inglés,” explicó. “Me sentía perdida.”

Encima de la discusión se cernía la ley de lectura del tercer grado. Para estos padres, nunca iba a ser fácil ayudar a sus niños a aprender a leer en un segundo idioma — pero la ley aumentó la presión.

Yesenia Hernandez afirmó que lee a su hija de segundo grado en inglés, pero se preocupaba que su pronunciación no es perfecta.

“Ella está aprendiendo, y yo la estoy confundiendo,” dijo.

Trabajando a lado de cinco madres, Hernandez creó una lista de las maneras en que su escuela podría ayudarle a ayudar a sus hijos. Otros grupos trabajaban en sus propias listas, y cuando compararon los resultados, se notaba muchas semejanzas. Por lo general, los padres querían comunicarse con las escuelas en español, y pidieron recursos — como clases de inglés para adultos  — cuyos beneficios se trasladarían a sus hijos. Un grupo apuntó la “sala de padres” de Priest Elementary-Middle School, donde padres que hablan español pueden reunir para compartir información y recursos.

Quieren apoyar a sus hijos mientras aprenden a leer, pero los padres admitieron que sienten inciertos sobre los efectos de la ley del tercer grado, que iniciará el año que viene. ¿Si sus hijos fueron retrasados al tercer grado, cómo serían afectados?

Para Delia Barba, no había problema: “¿Qué pasa si dicen pasa, pasa, pasa, y no sabe cómo leer?” preguntó.

Pero Gloria Vera tenía dudas. En su barrio, aproximadamente 80 por ciento de los estudiantes hablan español en casa. ¿Cuántos iban a ser regresados?

“En esta parte de Detroit, debe haber una solución,” dijo.