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Kindergarten assessment scores paint murky picture

No clear reason emerges for some schools doing better than others


Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kindergarteners at the David Douglas Arthur Academy learn their letters and sounds through the charter school's philosophy of direct instruction.

The Oregon Department of Education recently released the results of the Oregon Kindergarten Assessment.

The outcome is a spreadsheet listing nearly 1,000 schools, with the children’s scores from their first day of public school broken out by ethnicity and gender.

This is the second year that this data has been collected, but it is still unclear what exactly it is telling us.

“We’re still trying to grapple with how to interpret the information,” said Oregon State University Professor Megan McClelland, an expert in Child Development and one of the lead researchers who developed the assessment.

McClelland feels strongly that the information is needed to help identify young children who need help before they enter school, since pre-kindergarten development is increasingly shown to have lifelong ramifications. With the majority of students in the nation’s public schools systems under the free and reduced lunch measure of poverty, McClelland says today’s kids need a “buffer” against negative influences.

“High-quality education has been empirically shown over and over again to do that,” McClelland says.

Aimee Craig, a spokeswoman for the Early Learning Division, says the governor’s office aims to use the information in years to come to measure success in programs that help prop up young families. Gov. John Kitzhaber’s latest budget request includes early childhood development programs like an educator certificate for child-care providers and a home visit program for coaching new parents.

“We know that investing early gives us a strong return to those invested dollars,” Craig said.

What do the scores mean?

But if the state is looking for easy answers about where to invest those dollars, the latest data don’t seem to reveal them. In a review by the Portland Tribune, the Portland schools with the highest and lowest scores were just blocks away — and one pairing was within the same school group.

Arthur Academy, a charter school started in the David Douglas School District, has six locations. The location on Southeast Division Street and 137th Avenue has the highest scores in the city. Entering kindergarteners scored high in teacher assessments of self-regulation, interpersonal skills and total approaches to learning.

A 10-minute drive away, the location on Southeast Yamhill had the lowest scores in the city on self-regulation.

“You wouldn’t think the populations would be all that different,” says Arthur Academy Executive Director Stephani Walker.

Walker says the school has their own assessments that they use to track progress throughout the year and doesn’t use the state assessment data for anything. She notes that the school doesn’t ask whether its students have attended preschool or other early childhood education settings, but maybe they should start. Photo Credit: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Arthur Academy Executive Director Stephani Walker

Mark Van Hoomissen, principal at Morrison Child & Family Services Hand in Hand, says he doesn’t use the state’s assessment either. His students scored lowest in four categories: interpersonal skills, total approaches to learning, letter names and letter sounds.

“The scores being low, that isn’t necessarily a surprise to me,” Van Hoomissen says. The Hand in Hand program is for children who have experienced extreme trauma, abuse or neglect. They are referred to the Portland Public Schools program through the Department of Human Services or county mental health agencies.

Van Hoomissen says that while he would support an expansion of early childhood education, his staff isn’t too concerned about where the kids come from.

“However they get to us, it’s: ‘OK, let’s get started,’” he says, noting that their top priority isn’t reading, writing and arithmetic, but how to deliver an experience that makes the child want to learn. “Even kids that we work with who have experienced trauma and neglect and those things, they want to do well in school.”

Nonacademic skills also tested

The Oregon Kindergarten Assessment is an unusual creature. In addition to letters and numbers, it measures nonacademic skills, such as self-regulation and interpersonal skills. It is given to students on the first day of school, so it is not an assessment of the school itself.

The test offers a “snapshot” of how the state’s entire population of children do on the first day of public school. It asks teachers to evaluate them on recognizing letters and numbers but also on how prepared they are to learn psychologically.

The overall statewide average score in English letter names was 17.7, compared to a score of 8.9 among Hispanic students. Students statewide scored 6.6 on English letter sounds recognition, while Hispanic students scored 2.8.

This was the first year that Spanish letter names were offered in the test to Spanish-speaking students, who did slightly better with an average score of 3.0.

The letters portion of the test has come under attack by parent and teacher groups, such as Oregon Save Our Schools and Parent-Child Preschools Organization, who argue that it is setting up a false paradigm that preschoolers need formal academic instruction at an age when they are too young to receive it.

But McClelland, the researcher who helped develop the test, says she sees another pattern emerging from the data. The self-regulation scores ticked up a bit — 3.5 to 3.6 — over the 2013-14 data.

McClelland says a young child’s ability to self-regulate correlates to their likelihood of finishing college.

“It’s really important that you learn not to have a huge temper tantrum. Those are pretty significant behaviors that you need to learn how to manage,” she says. “Maybe (the OKA result) also shows that people are starting to hear that these are important skills.”


Oregon Kindergarten Assessment results for schools in the city of Portland

Approaches to Learning (Scale of 1-5)

Self-Regulation

David Douglas Arthur Academy: 4.4

Portland Arthur Academy: 2.8

Statewide average: 3.6

Interpersonal Skills

David Douglas Arthur Academy tied with Bridger Elementary School: 4.6

Morrison Child & Family Services Hand in Hand: 2.6

Statewide average: 3.9

Total Approaches to Learning

David Douglas Arthur Academy tied with Bridger Elementary School: 4.4

Morrison Child & Family Services Hand in Hand: 2.8

Statewide average: 3.7

Early Mathematics (0-16)

Numbers & Operations

Emerson School: 11.9

Harrison Park School: 5.5

Statewide average: 8.0

Early Literacy (0-100)

English Letter Names

Stephenson Elementary School: 39.2

Morrison Child & Family Services Hand in Hand: 5.0

Statewide average: 17.7

English Letter Sounds

Stephenson Elementary School: 20.9

Morrison Child & Family Services Hand in Hand: 1.1

Statewide average: 6.6

Spanish Letter Names

Ventura Park Elementary School: 13.0

Lynch Meadows Elementary School: 0.1

Statewide average: 3.0

Source: Oregon Department of Education

Find out how your school scored by downloading the 2014-15 Excel spreadsheet.


By Shasta Kearns Moore
Reporter
503-546-5134
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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