McHenry County teachers test kindergarten assessment program

WOODSTOCK – Trent Wilson, 6, is laying out a sentence near a corner of Kelly Carlson’s kindergarten class at Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center, placing color-coded index cards in clear pouches on an easel.

His partner has disappeared into the visible, audible buzz of a young classroom awaiting dismissal. Wilson, who’s at the silly sentence station during a Thursday afternoon rotation of activities, presents his creation to Ms. Carlson: “My dog is on the sun.”

Objective achieved.

Carlson will take note – in her mind now, on paper later – of how Wilson and his peers are performing academically, how they interact with each other, how they’re progressing socially and emotionally. She is one of a few McHenry County teachers working out the kinks of a new statewide kindergarten assessment program in its pilot stage this year.

The Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) is debuting in 64 Illinois school districts this year, including Woodstock District 200, Marengo District 165 and Hebron District 19. The program – set for implementation statewide in 2015-16 – is meant to assess school readiness and identify gaps in individual kindergarten students’ development while providing educators with a better understanding of the needs of the age group as a whole.

“You can say, ‘OK, I can speed up some of my teaching’ or ‘I need to go back and re-teach,’ or ‘I need to group kids this way now,’” said Kim Qualls, principal at Alden-Hebron Elementary
School. “So I think it gives the teachers a lot of data to make better decisions about teaching.”

Many kindergarten teachers in the local districts participating in the pilot have yet to receive KIDS training, but some, like Carlson, are figuring out just how the program will affect day-to-day activity.

Assessing students is nothing new, but the KIDS approach has teachers looking not only at math, language and literacy development of their students, but also evaluating self-regulation and social development. The survey’s fifth domain, English language development, applies only to students learning English as a second language. Students are evaluated on four to seven “measures” within each domain.

Teachers fill out the survey for each student three times a year, but its detailed nature requires a commitment to daily evaluation, Carlson said. Students now are placed in groups of two, rather than five or six, to allow Carlson to better observe individuals.

“Throughout our whole day, we’re constantly looking at it,” Carlson said of the survey. She takes notes on students daily and collects assignments throughout the year for a portfolio.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” Verda Dierzen Principal Tricia Bogott said. “It’s not going to be, one day she sits down and gets all these measures done.”

Verda Dierzen teachers will meet later this month to formalize a way of putting those daily notes together, Carlson said. So far, seven of the school’s 20 kindergarten teachers are trained for the KIDS program.

In Hebron, the elementary school’s two kindergarten teachers will be trained by the end of the year. Qualls said there’s no doubt the program will alter the daily activities of a kindergarten classroom – a positive development overall, she said, but one that might come with a negative side effect.

“We have to move kids quicker,” she said. “I think a lot of things get left out in kindergarten. Learning through play and some of those other sorts of things ... maybe they won’t be exposed to now.”

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