By Terry Dean
Every kindergartener in District 97 will be tested starting next fall to gauge their learning skills entering school, as well as to evaluate how best to help new students transition into the first grade.
That's pending the school board's OK for the administration to purchase the needed screening tools sometime this summer, which appears likely after school board members heard a presentation from administrators on June 14 about the proposal. The board did not take action at that meeting, but members expressed support for the plan.
Supt. Albert Roberts informed board members that the district does not currently have any screening process in place, not a surprise given that the district's full-day kindergarten program is only three years old — it launched at the start of the 2009-10 school year and was piloted in a few schools a year earlier.
Last fall, at the urging of then-board member Michelle Harton, the district created a task force to look at student achievement at the kindergarten level — the thought being to address the so-called "achievement gap" by redirecting attention to the lower grades. The task force includes teachers, parents and administrators.
Members of the group, led by D97's curriculum coordinator for elementary schools, Duane Meighan, presented their report to the board at the June 14 meeting. Testing would take place Aug. 8-15 and would take place on an annual process. The district had about 600 students enrolled in kindergarten this past school year.
If approved by the board, the district would purchase a "Kindergarten Readiness Test" for students and also a questionnaire for parents. According to the proposal, the test would take about 30 minutes, with a 10-minute rest period. The parent questionnaire focuses on their kids' social and emotional development. The survey, according to the task force, will help determine if those kids need early intervention.
Meighan explained that the screening process is not to determine whether kids will enter kindergarten and noted that the Collaboration for Early Childhood Care and Education are task force members. That network of Oak Park-area early childhood providers and educational activists has long focused on achievement for pre-K kids, birth to 5 years.
"It's going to allow us — both organizations — to continue to look at different types of data in very meaningful ways," Meighan said, "as we continue to work toward enhancing the learning experience of all our kids."
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