This Week in CPS: Going Deep on Kindergarten Readiness

Today, the Illinois State Board of Education released long-awaited data on how ready the state’s children are for kindergarten in three areas: social-emotional development, math and literacy. The news is sobering: 42 percent of the state’s kindergartners were determined not to be “ready” in any of the three areas measured.

Here’s how they got this information. For nearly a decade, Illinois has been working with a well-known nonprofit educational research and development agency, WestEd, to develop and pilot the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey, or KIDS. After five years of pilot testing, the state now has its first-ever snapshot of performance data on children younger than third grade.

Because the children are just starting kindergarten, KIDS is not a test. Teachers observe each of their entering kindergartners closely within the first 40 days of school as they go about their usual classroom activities and determine how close they are to mastery (or “readiness”) of benchmarks that signal they have the foundation in place to grow as expected in getting along with other children, self-regulation and how they approach learning challenges, math and literacy.

The new data reinforce advocates’ long-standing calls for more attention to the needs of very young children. As Geoff Nagle, president of the well-known child development graduate school Erikson Institute, told WBEZ, “This is not just early education, it’s early experience.” While steps like expanding access to pre-K and preschool programs are important, it will take policies like paid parental leave, improved quality of care in infant and toddler day care settings and strategies to reduce community violence to make real progress, he said.

Interestingly, current data suggest Chicago Public Schools’ overall kindergarten readiness is about the same as the state as a whole: 22 percent of CPS kindergartners deemed “ready” vs 24 percent of Illinois kindergartners. However, as Chalkbeat Chicago reported, a tech glitch means only 68 percent of CPS kindergartners were included in the survey this year. The data showed a significant gap in readiness by income, as measured by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch: 40 percent of higher-income CPS kindergartners met readiness standards in all three areas, while only 17 percent of those eligible for free or reduced-price lunch did. I’d be willing to speculate that the lost data came from lower-income kids, but that’s just a guess.

On its web site, the state board of education offers a toolkit for families seeking ideas for how to help their children build the skills they’ll need. Honestly, even though my kid is almost 9 years old, some of these tips are still useful to remember and practice, like breaking a hard task into smaller pieces and setting a timer so they don’t become overwhelming. I’m going to print this one out and put it on my refrigerator.

As Robert Fulghum’s famous book tells us, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” But when you don’t come in ready to learn, not all the lessons stick. While the policy people work on improving children’s earliest life and learning experiences, I’ll take the refresher and try to fill in any gaps my kiddo is still working on.

What’s Happening This Week

While most CPS teachers and students are still deep in vacation mode, school supply lists are out on Target, so parents like me are getting ready to shop til we drop.

But before the school year gets back into swing, tomorrow morning you can share your thoughts on what needs coverage in Chicago education with the folks from Chalkbeat Chicago. Their summer listening tour stops in for breakfast with OneGoal tomorrow morning. Details here. I’ll be there too and I look forward to seeing you.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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