Delaware Launches Early Learning Survey
Some 3-5 year old children go to nursery school. Others go to day care. And some students stay at home with a parent, guardian, or caretaker. In each of these scenarios, the level of exposure a child has to learning his or her ABCs, fine and gross motor skills, and social emotional skills may vary widely. Kindergarten teachers often have no idea where the students came from and experiences they have had before kindergarten until after they conduct their own screenings (often conducted at a school-wide or district-wide level). From a state-wide level, other than in special education (which I will talk about later), there has been no standard tool to measure kindergarten readiness. That is, until now.
In the first 30 days of school, a cohort of Delaware’s kindergarten students will participate in the Delaware Early Learning Survey (DE-ELS). By September 2015, 100% of the state’s kindergarten students will be participating in the DE-ELS. The Survey, which is part of Delaware’s Early Learning Challenge grant, is based on the Teaching Strategies Gold assessment. The benefits of the DE-ELS are simple and far reaching. The Survey will provide a standard measurement for kindergarten readiness. The results will equip kindergarten teachers with data on the overall knowledge and skills their students possess and, moreover, inform the early childhood community on its strengths and deficits in preparing students for kindergarten.*
In addition to providing this measurement, the DE-ELS also can be an opportunity for the early detection of children entering the system with undiagnosed learning disabilities; it can be the basis for a decision to follow up with an in-depth diagnostic assessment. As a former teacher of students with special needs, I see this as a benefit to all children, especially those who otherwise may not be diagnosed until later in their public school education.
Like I mentioned earlier, the practice of systematically screening children before they’re immersed in kindergarten is nothing new in the realm of special education. Since 2005, the US Department of Education has required preschool special education programs to report on early childhood outcomes using a standard assessment or survey (in addition to parent feedback, and professional observations). In Delaware, local school districts use a Delaware Department of Education approved primary assessment instrument to measure early childhood progress. One of these instruments is the Teaching Strategies Gold assessment—the same assessment that the Delaware Early Learning Survey will be derived from.
In closing, this fall marks an exciting time in early learning. Information is power—I am quite certain the results from the DE-ELS will not only help kindergarten teachers, it will inform a system of supports for families—well before their child enters through the doors of their kindergarten classroom. This kind of survey has proven itself effective in special education, and will most likely do the same for all kindergarten students in Delaware.
* It is important to note that it will not be used to make a determination about an individual child’s placement in kindergarten or promotion to first grade. In addition, individual child or teacher level data will not be reported publicly.