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New Grants Focus on Inter-State Collaboration for Kindergarten Entry Assessments

Published:  September 24, 2013
Earlier this month, the US Department of Education awarded $15.1 million in Enhanced Assessment Grants (EAGs) to the three state education agencies that applied for funding to develop or enhance their Kindergarten Entry Assessments.
As senior policy analyst Laura Bornfreund wrote last year, two of the state education agencies awarded grants—Maryland and North Carolina—were also amongst the winners of the Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). The third winner, Texas, did not participate in RTT-ELC; their EAG application came as a surprise to many. 
Maryland was awarded a $4.7 million grant on behalf of their 7-state consortium, which includes other RTT-ELC winners Ohio and Massachusetts, as well as Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, and Nevada. As part of RTT-ELC, Maryland and Ohio are already working together to improve Work Sampling Systems for their entry assessments and Massachusetts is implementing a new KEA system on their own that prioritizes local decision-making. Now, in collaboration with the consortium, they will improve a multi-state assessment system that includes both a KEA and aligned formative assessments.
North Carolina and its partners--Arizona, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Maine, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Carolina—will be sharing a $6.1 million grant. Before this grant, Delaware had planned to use Teaching Strategies GOLD for its pilot KEA, and North Carolina and Rhode Island were going to build upon their states’ existing tests. Now the consortium will be working together to develop a K-3 assessment system. It remains to be seen to what extent states will modify their existing practices to move toward a shared K-3 assessment system.
Texas’s award for $3.9 million will go toward funding the Texas Kindergarten Entry Assessment System (TX-KEA), which will improve the quality and variety of assessment tools used by the state’s districts. This system will assess nearly 400,000 incoming kindergarten students. Having remained aloof from the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and involvement in either the Smarter Balanced or PARCC assessment consortia, it comes as little surprise that Texas has not opted to join with other states to improve their KEAs either.
While the EAG program was originally supposed to distribute just $9 million in grants, the department ultimately judged all applicants worthy of funding.
With the new focus on inter-state collaboration, hopefully the quality of kindergarten entry assessments will greatly improve. Nearly half of states already administer kindergarten readiness assessments, but they vary greatly with regard to what they measure and how the resulting information is used. Some states assess students’ readiness in areas such as early literacy and numeracy only, while others incorporate additional learning domains such as social-emotional, physical, and approaches to learning (ability to persist at a challenging task for example). This program provides an opportunity for states to work together to establish best practices in kindergarten entry assessment and to develop high-quality early grade formative assessments.
Interestingly, the consortia that have formed around KEAs vary widely from the consortia states have joined in developing college- and career-ready assessments in the later grades. Members of the Smarter Balanced and PARCC consortia are equally disbursed amongst these new groups working on kindergarten entry assessments. It remains to be seen whether this will strengthen the quality and compatibility of all K-12 assessment, or create potential barriers for alignment in the future.
In the next few weeks, we’ll be digging into the KEA consortia’s proposals and writing more on what they plan to do.

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