Chelan-Douglas Trends e-Newsletter

KINDERGARTEN READINESS BELOW STATE BUT IMPROVEMENTS OBSERVED -

For the uninitiated, the acronym WaKIDS is hard to decipher. Something to do with children, and maybe something to do with Washington state. Spelled out, it stands for Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills, an assessment all public kindergarten students take in the first couple months of the school year. And it has become critical in understanding the state's early learning efforts.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) doesn't refer to WaKIDS as a test but rather an assessment carried out by the teachers. The assessment became mandatory for every child in state-funded full-day kindergarten classrooms in 2012-2013. Other schools, such as private elementary schools, may choose to participate. It exists because of a partnership between the Department of Early Learning (DEL) and the OSPI, with private support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Thrive by Five Washington.

During the assessment, kindergarten teachers observe their students during everyday classroom activities and take inventory on each child's success in six skillsets; social-emotional, physical, cognitive, language, literacy, and mathematics. This assessment is designed to show whether or not students are demonstrating characteristics of entering kindergarteners. It is not used in order to determine if the child should be entering kindergarten. In the Eastmont school district, according to Penny Brown, Assessment Coordinator and Principal at Rock Island Elementary, these results are then shared with parents at the October conferences and provide ideas for parents about how they can help at home.

Data from indicator 3.1.12 show that across all school districts within Chelan and Douglas Counties the share of entering kindergarteners showing kindergarten level skills in all six domains is just shy of 40%, or 2 out of every 5 students. This is, however, a marked improvement from the inception of the assessment, up about ten percentage points from 2012-2013 (30.8%). Yet, regional kindergarten readiness is still falling short of the state benchmark by about 7 percentage point, which sits at 46.7% for the most recent school year.

The difference is largely due to the combined counties showing a higher percentage of entering kindergarteners show adequate skills in just one domain or none at all than the state average. Locally, the region has 16.4% of students in this category while statewide the number is just 11.6%. This set of students, too, has improved since the onset of the assessment but has made its biggest improvements since school year 2014-2015, where 20% of the students, or one in five, were only ready in no or just a single domain.

Considering the counties separately, we see some large differences within the region. The Wenatchee school district, which accounts for

57% of the students tested in Chelan County, had just 32% kindergarteners ready in all six domains and 17.8% of students ready in one or none of domains in the most recent reported assessment. Eastmont, on the other hand, is outperforming the combined counties' average, reporting most recently that 43.4% of students ready in all six domains while 15% students ready in just one or none of the domains.

Brown mentions that demographics and language may have something to do with the initially low numbers. "Language is obviously a challenge especially if we don't have the teachers that speak Spanish to help these little ones create a bridge between their home language and English Spokane at schools." The population of the combined counties reveal a statistically significant difference to the state of the share of Hispanics or Latinos residing in the region. According to Census data, found in indicator 0.2.2, nearly 30% of the population is Hispanic, over double the state rate of 12.7%.

While the local community appears behind at the onset of a child's education, by 4th grade, when students take the Smarter Balance Assessment (SBA), improvements have been made. Indicator 3.1.4 shows the share of students meeting the standards in the language arts portion the SBA. In the combined counties, 50.1% of the students met those standards most recently. While this is still below the state rate of 56.2% the improvement is apparent. Although the two assessments aren't directly comparable, they do provide f insight to the improvements students have made.

Most recently, the Wenatchee school district reported 46.3% of their students meeting the 4th grade standard versus 32% of the entering kindergarteners showing readiness in all six domains. The Eastmont district reported 59.4% of their students meeting the SBA standards, roughly three percentage points higher than the State rate. Brown attributes this improvement in part to English Language Specialists in the district and language development programs such as Imagine Learning. She goes on to state that "the quality of the classroom teacher is the greatest determining factor in a child's growth, so I guess we can assume we have a gifted group of teachers in our district."

The Department of Early Learning states, "School readiness is not just whether the child is ready to succeed in school. It is also whether schools and communities are ready to support that success". As the data demonstrate, the average current WaKIDS score of the two counties points to underperformance to other districts across the state. Yet, despite unique demographic and language challenges directly impacting student performance on standardized assessments, the region's school children bounce back, due to an excelling teaching staff and programs. It appears that t the community is ready to support and build upon the success of their children.

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