3 models for more effective early grades testing

How to determine whether increased investments in early learning are paying off
By: | March 2, 2021
(AdobeStock/DisobeyArt)(AdobeStock/DisobeyArt)

An “misaligned web of early learning assessments” makes it hard for educators and policymakers to determine how much students are learning during preschool through grade 2, a new study finds.

This increases the difficulty of determining whether increased investments in early learning are paying off, according to the “Tough Test” report from the FutureEd think tank at Georgetown University.

“The absence of high-quality, systemwide data makes it hard to target resources effectively, ensure disadvantaged students are getting the early support they need, and improve programs and teaching quality,” the report says. “A lack of sound measures risks squandering resources—and leaving our aspirations for young children unfulfilled.

“Tough Test” encourages educators and policymakers to develop more reliable preschool assessments as districts emerge from the COVID pandemic.

The FutureEd report highlights three pre-K assessment models:

Measuring key areas of development

The Ready for Kindergarten: Early Childhood Comprehensive Assessment System, or RforK, measures the skills of preschool students and kindergartener across multiple domains of development, including:

  • Social-emotional development
  • Language and literacy
  • Math
  • Physical well-being and motor development.

The preschool component of the assessment is conducted through child-observation by teachers who gauge student progress multiple during the year. The keep notes about a child’s child’s behaviors and interactions, and can upload videos and images on an app to measure progress against learning benchmarks.

The kindergarten test combines observations and direct testing.

Both assessments, which can accommodate students with disabilities and English language learners, were launched with Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge grants in Maryland and Ohio in 2011, and have since expanded to Indiana, Michigan and South Carolina.

CLASS is Louisiana’s “North Star”

An observational tool focused exclusively on measuring the quality of teacher-child interactions is the driving force for improving pre-K learning in Louisiana, the report sayus.


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Under the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS, the Louisiana Department of Education now requires at least two observations per year in every publicly funded preschool classroom, including childcare, Head Start, and school-based programs.

Low-scoring programs must develop and improvement plan, with state curriculum assistance and mental-health consultations for teachers.

The state also provides tax credits and bonus payments to programs with higher quality ratings.

Virginia’s Model Kindergarten Readiness Assessment

The Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program, now being piloted in 35 school systems, places an equal emphasis on academic and social-emotional skills during spring and fall assessments administered by teachers.

The assessments use three measures: The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, Virginia’s  literacy assessment; the Early Mathematics Assessment System; and the Child Behavior Rating Scale.

Teachers conduct the math assessment, for instance, with a flip book and manipulatives. The game-like tasks allow teachers to observe students’ thinking, FutureEd says.


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