Clackamas River Elementary School Principal Seth Johnson knows a thing or two about kindergarteners. Aside from his daily professional duties, Johnson has a son that age.

Johnson currently is paying tuition for his child to attend full-day kindergarten. But in a couple of years, school districts throughout Oregon will have the option of expanding their kindergarten offerings to full days without adding financial burdens to themselves or parents like Johnson.

Officials at the Estacada School District already are beginning the process of examining how to accommodate that option, which includes assessments of incoming kindergarten students to better determine their specific educational needs.

Right now, Clackamas River offers two morning and one afternoon kindergarten class. Nearby Eagle Creek Elementary has one kindergarten teacher, who has one class each in the morning and afternoon.

That will change, though, with the start of the 2015-16 school year. Districts will be able to add full-day kindergarten if they so desire.

“There won’t be tuition for parents,” Johnson said. “There won’t be any extra cost to the school district, and it should be fairly cost neutral to do that.”

Eagle Creek Principal Dan Draper said that the change is “not an unfunded mandate” from the state.

“Districts will be able to claim a whole average daily membership for students being there for a full day,” Draper said. “That would be what would provide the money for it to happen.”

In order to ensure a smoother transition into kindergarten, incoming students will be assessed in different areas, both academic and behavioral.

“The driving force behind that initiative is to get a better sense and collect more data on how ready kindergarten students are as they come in,” Draper said. “It will certainly mean working collaboratively with our local preschools. I think it’s a good thing. There definitely needs to be more collaboration.”

The assessments will include math and reading skills tests and a checklist on students’ social skills. That will cover subjects such as how well they interact with other children, follow directions, participate in groups, take turns, share and let others speak.

Draper said some school districts in the state have piloted similar kindergarten readiness tools this year in preparation for the broader implementation that is scheduled for next fall.

“We’ve been sent the materials,” Draper said. “Our kindergarten team is reviewing it and figuring out how it can be put into place.”

To help facilitate the assessments, Draper said the preliminary plan is to bring kindergarteners in with their parents one at a time on the first week of school.

“We’ll be setting up a series of meeting times and a series of slots when kids can come in individually with their parents to do a quick assessment to get an idea of where they’re at,” he said. “All of the kindergarteners will come into school that following week once we’ve had the chance to get to know them on an individual basis.”

Students will be able to see the school and meet their teachers, Johnson said, and the assessments will be administered by the same staff members that students will interact with on a daily basis.

“The way the teachers will do this, it’s presented in a way that’s engaging for the kids and exciting for the kids, and it helps us collect data right off the bat so we can focus their skills right from the start,” Johnson said. “There is anxiety, because assessment is a scary word. But the more data we have, the better informed decisions we can make. We can share that with parents and the rest of our learning team, and that can be used in a real positive way.”

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