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Washington’s Kindergarten Readiness Tool Plays a Key Role In State’s Race to the Top

September 26th, 2012 by Paul Nyhan

(This is the second in a series of stories that will explore Washington state’s Race to the Top — Early Learning Challenge winning grant, plan and progress.)


One of the pillars of Washington state’s winning Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant — and a big reason why it won — is its school readiness tool, WaKIDS. But, that tool is more than another student assessment.


The program, Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS), was designed as a process to help students, their teachers and their families get a strong start in kindergarten in three basic stages. It is an observational assessment that gives parents and teachers an idea of an incoming kindergarten student’s social, emotional, physical, cognitive and linguistic development. It builds stronger relationships between early learning programs and kindergarten classrooms. Finally, it connects parents and kindergarten teachers before and during the start of school.


In another sense, it is a bridge between school’s traditional starting line, kindergarten, and the important work that comes before that grade.


“If WaKIDS represents the starting line for school, then early learning programs are all of the things that happen to prepare you to do your best long before you arrived. Also, you want to know as much about the race before you start — what’s the course, water stops, etc. before you take off. WaKIDS can do that for kids, teachers and parents — prepare them for the journey and inform them on where they need to go,” said Valisa Smith, who helped write Washington’s Race to the Top application as a consultant to the Department of Early Learning.


The program began before Washington applied for an Early Learning Challenge grant and it will be around long after that money runs out in about three-and-a-half years. In 2010, Washington rolled out a pilot program that enrolled about 3,000 kindergartners. Last year the program was in 165 schools with 11,000 kindergarten students.


Now, Washington’s Race to the Top grant will accelerate that expansion. Under the plan, WaKIDS will cover 75 percent of the state’s kindergarteners, 56,000, next year. In two years, the program will serve all of these students, about 75,000, and train all of their kindergarten teachers.


The program’s ambition, however, extends far beyond serving targeted levels of students.


With WaKIDS, Washington engaged one of the toughest and sometimes controversial topics in early education, kindergarten assessment. Testing in kindergarten, for example, is on the rise, Reuters reported yesterday.


At least 25 states now mandate at least one formal assessment during kindergarten. Many local school districts require their own tests as well, starting just a few weeks into the academic year.


“Five-year-olds put to the test as kindergarten exams gain steam.”

But, Washington took a different and broader approach to the idea than standardized testing by creating an observational system that focuses on the whole child — where students come from in the early years, where they are now and where they are going. The program helps teachers tailor their instruction, since they have a clearer idea of where their students are. Overall, the idea is to connect everyone: kindergarten teachers, early educators and families.


This broader approach has drawn attention of other states that are looking at the program as a possible model.


Since WaKIDS is tackling such a complex issue, there have been and will be challenges along the way, and we will keep track of the effort this year. If you are a teacher, parent or early educator working with the program, we would like to hear from you. Send us a message on our Facebook page.



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