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Ed. Dept. Launches Competition for Kindergarten Entry Assessments

States will have a chance to vie for $9.2 million in funds intended to help them create kindergarten entry assessments, which evaluate young children on several domains related to school readiness.

The description of the funding opportunity says that the U.S. Department of Education expects to make two grants. Groups of three or more states working together will be given an edge in the competition. The deadline for the notice of intent to apply is June 24; applications are due July 8.

Kindergarten-entry assessments are designed to measure a child's "essential domains of school readiness," which include language and literacy development, cognition and general early knowledge, readiness to learn, physical well-being, and social and emotional development. According to early education experts, these tests should not be used to steer children away from kindergarten, nor should they be used to evaluate the preschool that a child may have attended before arriving in school. At their best, supporters of kindergarten entry assessments say they offer a snapshot of children's readiness that can be used by teachers, districts, and states to guide instruction and create better early-education programs.

I explored this particular grant idea in an article published earlier this year, when the department was seeking comments during the planning stages. States, which are working to create academically-aligned testing systems, said they would welcome the money. But others had concerns about the grant, saying that the money could be better spent on other programs, or that tests could be misused in "high-stakes" decisions on preschool or teacher quality.

In its response to public comments the Education Department indicated it did make some changes to address concerns that these assessments may be used for purposes other than it would like to see. Tests developed with this grant money cannot be used as a single measure for high-stakes decisions, the grant proposal now states.

Some commenters also said that early-childhood educators should be involved in creating the assessments funded through this money; the department response was that it didn't want to be overly prescriptive, but it changed the proposal to say that teachers, early-childhood advisory councils (state entities that were established in the Head Start Act of 2007), and experts in early learning standards are "key stakeholders" whose expertise could be tapped by states.

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