Kindergarten teachers in Frederick County Public Schools have wrapped up their first year of testing under a new state exam and can now advise officials on how it could improve next year.
The Kindergarten Readiness Assessment was created through the Early Childhood Comprehensive Assessment System, a federal grant-funded initiative run by a joint partnership between the Maryland and Ohio departments of education and private entities. It replaces the Maryland Model for School Readiness, an observation-based assessment that judges student ability upon entering school.
The updated system is expected to include a kindergarten entry exam, delivered in the first six to eight weeks of the school year and with subsequent progress checks; assessments of intellectual and personal growth for preschoolers ages 3 through 5; and recommended disability and health screenings.
Kevin Cuppett, the school system's executive director of curriculum, instruction and innovation, called the KRA a "discreet, more actionable" step in the right direction for teachers and the county's more than 2,800 kindergartners.
It is hard to assess preschool and elementary students because of where they are developmentally, Cuppett said, and "readiness" is relative and can change after the first few weeks of school.
Kindergarten tests look at the ability to identify letters and numbers, social and physical development, and other topics that fall into broad categories like the arts, scientific thinking and social studies. The KRA also follows learning objectives set by the Common Core State Standards, according to state documents.
The new format is more hands-on and student-driven than the former, and can be administered in groups or individually with iPads and on paper. Early childhood education coordinator Cathy Nusbaum said parents shouldn't worry about over-testing at a young age because it isn't like sitting down to fill in Scantron bubbles.
"I don't think (students) notice, and I was in classrooms watching," Nusbaum said. "It's built into what they normally do. They're very interactive items."
She believes the new assessment is "absolutely" an improvement over the Maryland Model for School Readiness.
"I think it will give teachers better data, and it's better aligned to what they're doing," she said. "Teachers would use (the old test), but it wouldn't really give them data they could use."
Some felt one hour was too long for testing, while others ran into technological glitches with the iPads. Some test materials were not ready on time, so officials kept the window open for an extra week into November. Despite that, Nusbaum said most clicked well with the format.
"I think the ones that loved it were able to use the professional learning they had and embed it into their classroom," Nusbaum said.
Teachers were asked Wednesday to send feedback to the state, Nusbaum said. Their thoughts will be used to tweak the test ahead of next year's exam period. Student performance data will be returned to schools in March after scoring benchmarks are set. Teachers expect to see faster turnaround time in the future.
Follow Rachel S. Karas on Twitter: @rachelkaras.