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MailTribune.com
  • Kindergarten assessments may help educators

    State officials can gauge readiness for school; teachers will be able to focus on individual needs
  • SALEM — Kindergartner Abby Wilch steadily recited letters shown in a light blue assessment booklet, unfazed by seconds left on the clock.
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  • SALEM — Kindergartner Abby Wilch steadily recited letters shown in a light blue assessment booklet, unfazed by seconds left on the clock.
    She sounded out letters, subtracted stars, counted gray boxes and added circles.
    "Choose your answer," her teacher, Ciara Nielsen, at Kalapuya Elementary School told Abby before turning the page.
    The 5-year-old breezed through most of the questions, stumbling only on a few that asked her to identify a missing number in a sequence.
    Thousands of Oregon kindergartners are participating in a new statewide assessment this year expected to help education officials, teachers and parents gauge how prepared children are to learn as they take their first steps in the school system.
    There were more than 42,600 kindergarten students in Oregon public schools last year, according to the state Department of Education.
    The assessment, which is given during the first six weeks of school, is made up of three components — early literacy, early math and approaches to learning. For English Language Learners who speak Spanish, there's also a section that asks them to identify the syllable sounds of their native language.
    Measuring a students' ability to complete tasks such as reading letters and counting is not new to Oregon kindergarten teachers. But until this year there wasn't a uniform assessment that all kindergartners statewide were required to take.
    "It provides that snapshot of development in that first six weeks of kindergarten," said Kara Williams, an early childhood education and kindergarten specialist for the Department of Education.
    Students who don't do well on the assessment, which takes about 15 minutes, won't be prevented from entering kindergarten.
    Lawmakers in 2012 passed a bill that directed the agency along with the Early Learning Council to develop the statewide kindergarten assessment.
    Uniform data on kindergarten readiness is expected to help state education officials answer questions about whether children are arriving prepared for kindergarten, if school readiness is improving or declining, what achievement gaps exists, and how they should go about improving early learning.
    After districts report raw kindergarten assessment data online to the state by late October, it will be up to education officials to help decipher what the numbers mean.
    Meanwhile, elementary school teachers are trying to figure out how they can use the statewide assessment to better meet the needs of individual students.
    At Richmond Elementary School, kindergartner Malachi McFarland-Lewis correctly identified the missing number in a sequence verbally.
    But although he said the correct answer aloud, Malachi pointed to a different number in the three choices provided in the assessment booklet.
    When it came to reciting and sounding out letters, Malachi repeatedly said one letter until time ran out.
    His teacher, Bryndle Jarvis, isn't too worried about how Malachi fared on the statewide assessment.
    "It leaves me with more questions," Jarvis said. "I'm just excited to get to know him."
    At the very least, she said, the student answered the questions with a sense of confidence.
    When the assessment is completed, Jarvis raised her hand.
    Malachi returned the high five with a smile.
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