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Assessing inclusive early education

Learning social skills is critical as kindergarten schools become more rigorous and focused

Learning social skills such as sharing and teamwork in preschool has become all the more critical as kindergarten has become more rigorous and focused on academic assessments, says Jenifer Cline, student services coordinator in Great Falls Public Schools in Montana.

In the past, students learned to play cooperatively and to follow instructions in kindergarten. But those who have attended preschool arrive in elementary school already having learned those skills, along with numbers, letters and basic reading.

That said, preschool educators also need better tools to conduct broad assessments of students’ developmental needs. Because the brain has such plasticity, there’s a wide range of what can be considered typical development, she says. “The labels we have for kids right now don’t fit—a lot of preschool students fit under the developmentally delayed category,” Cline says. “We need more targeted assessments that can be more specific about where kids are not performing, and what they need.”

Better assessments could also lead to the development of more effective preschool curriculums—which, Cline adds, can be hard to find.

Aurora Public Schools in Colorado has begun to assess its inclusive preschool programs by analyzing students’ performances in later grades. When, for instance, a student struggles to hit reading benchmarks in kindergarten, educators can look back at what instruction the student received in pre-K and adjust early-literacy programs, says Erin Turner, a preschool special education consultant with the district.

About 80 percent of the district’s students reach expected behavioral norms when they enter kindergarten—that’s a 24 percent increase over the last four years, Turner adds.