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Volume 13 Number 1
©The Author(s) 2011

Constructing and Resisting the Development of a School Readiness Survey: The Power of Participatory Research

Tricia Giovacco Johnson & Michelle Buchanan
University of Wyoming

Abstract

This article describes the process of engaging preschool and kindergarten teachers in the research and development of a school readiness survey. The current trend toward high-stakes assessment of school readiness pressures communities to collect child performance data in a manner that departs from informal observation typical of early childhood assessments. Based on the knowledge that assessment should be age appropriate, reflect a range of developmental domains, incorporate authentic methods, and be inclusive of diverse learners, preschool and kindergarten teachers in Wyoming resisted the use of formal assessments of school readiness. Wyoming chose to be proactive in developing “Instructional Foundations for Kindergarten,” an observation tool grounded in values and perspectives shared by preschool and kindergarten teachers. This process utilized a collaborative research approach through focus group and small group interviews that engaged preschool and kindergarten teachers in dialogue regarding children, classrooms, and their efforts to support the transition from preschool to kindergarten settings. Findings indicate that teachers involved in the creation of an assessment value the opportunity to share their different perspectives, engage in meaningful dialogue regarding the relevance of survey content and items, and promote the use of assessments that are inclusive of all children. This research begins a conversation among early childhood teachers in Wyoming regarding readiness—a first step in the development of a readiness system that reflects the shared values of stakeholders.

Introduction

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The purpose of the study reported here was to utilize innovative collaborative research approaches to create a school readiness assessment instrument grounded in values and perspectives shared among early childhood stakeholders in Wyoming. Understanding the power and impact of assessments on children, families, schools, and communities, Wyoming teachers resisted the adoption of a published checklist or standardized readiness assessment. In response to national trends to collect child performance data, policy makers at the Wyoming Department of Education chose to be proactive in developing an observation tool as a measure of children’s foundations for success in kindergarten for use in publicly funded preschool programs for 4- to 5-year-old children and kindergartners in their first year of public education.

Researchers from the University of Wyoming began the process by establishing a partnership with the Wyoming Department of Education and preschool and kindergarten teachers from across the state. This partnership provided many opportunities for dialogue regarding values, concerns, and priorities related to key foundations for children making the transition to kindergarten. This article describes the collaborative process of developing the “Instructional Foundations for Kindergarten” (IFK) observation tool. The IFK is not a high-stakes test to determine whether children are ready for school or not; rather, it is a tool for understanding how to prepare young children for school, determining appropriate preschool and kindergarten curriculum, and identifying professional development needs of teachers. This research narrowly focuses on teachers as stakeholders in the creation of an instrument designed to share information about children between preschool programs, kindergarten teachers, families, and communities. This initial step in a multiphase process begins with collaboration among teachers and intends to involve families and communities during future stages of developing a statewide readiness system.

Challenge of Readiness Assessments

Shifting Meaning of Readiness

The National Education Goals Panel proclaimed in 1991, “…all children in America will start school ready to learn” (p. vi). Kagan (1999) reports that this goal has shifted focus from children being ready to learn to their readiness for school. Consequently, current trends reflect the educationalization and systematization of early childhood rooted in an accountability perspective (Kagan & Kauerz, 2007). This approach attempts to define quality of educational programs and measure child outcomes through the establishment of predetermined learning standards and isolated skills intended to demonstrate that children are “ready for school.” As a result, traditional holistic early childhood assessment that reflects all domains of development is being replaced by assessment of academic learning, with a narrow focus on literacy and math skills (Snow, 2007).

Readiness Assessment Practices

It is widely accepted that readiness assessments ought to be age appropriate, reflect a range of developmental domains, incorporate authentic methods, and be inclusive of diverse learners (Scott-Little & Niemeyer, 2001). However, current assessment trends depart from informal observation and recording and move toward high-stakes formal tests of content that often neglect social-emotional development and approaches to learning (Meisels, 2007). Graue (2006) describes readiness checklists as a “developmental buffet” of normative skills intended to draw comparisons to typical 5-year-old kindergartners. Meisels (1999) cautions against using brief evaluations of core skills or maturation as determinants of readiness. Rather, readiness is a relative construct that should be assessed over time in contexts that reflect the interactions and reciprocal relationships between the characteristics of the child and the environment (Dockett & Perry, 2002).

Values and Expectations for Readiness

Assessing school readiness is a complicated process because of the range of skills, beliefs, and values held by stakeholders; the variation in rates of development and environments affecting young children; and equity issues inherent in creating a “threshold” for admission to kindergarten (Graue, 2006; Kagan, 1990). Dockett and Perry (1999, 2002) report that the wide range of opinions of children, parents, and teachers regarding important skills for the start of school complicates the establishment of a shared understanding and assessment of school readiness. A number of researchers have found that social-emotional competence and self-regulation are important for readiness (Bodrova & Leong 2001, 2003; Dockett & Perry, 2002; Shonkoff & Meisels, 2000; Zigler, Gilliam, & Jones, 2006). Gill, Winters, and Friedman (2006) found that both preschool and kindergarten teachers prioritize academic skills as preparation for school, followed by self-management, cooperation, and independence. Piotrkowski, Botsko, and Matthews (2000) found that families, particularly parents from low-income homes, valued pre-academic skills such as knowing numbers and letters as important readiness skills. Awareness of these varied perspectives informed Wyoming Department of Education’s engagement in a multiyear investigation into contextually relevant values and expectations of children, curriculum, and assessment. Through this research, teachers had a voice in constructing a readiness assessment that reflects shared priorities for all children and gives those who care for and teach children a guide for supporting children’s successful transition to school.

Development of the Instructional Foundations for Kindergarten Tool

Developing the IFK was a major initiative in the creation of a statewide kindergarten readiness system in Wyoming. Prior to 2007, kindergarten teachers used a checklist of discrete skills designed to determine children’s readiness for school. Preschool and kindergarten teachers who were committed to promoting successful transitions for children resisted participating in the use of formal readiness assessments. This resistance included complaints about the assessment instrument and the way the data were used to compare programs. In some cases, resistance took the form of refusal to participate in the assessment process. In response, the researchers determined that an effective kindergarten readiness survey must reflect the shared values of stakeholders. This requirement was particularly important for teachers gathering and using school readiness data.

Following national recommendations, Wyoming educators have embraced a broad-based model of school readiness that reflects the “Ready Children, Ready Schools, Ready Families, and Ready Communities” framework (National Education Goals Panel, 1991). To begin the process, researchers and teachers focused on the Ready Children–Ready Schools piece of the conceptual model to create a functional, easy-to-use observation tool for documenting child performance in both preschool and kindergarten. The name, Instructional Foundations for Kindergarten, conveys a shared responsibility among teachers for giving children the foundations that they need for school success that goes beyond a narrow view of the child being ready (or not ready) for school.

The initial development of IFK items incorporated research in the developmental sciences (Maxwell, Ritchie, Bredekamp, & Zimmerman, 2009) and a review of national and state early learning standards. National and state early childhood and assessment experts, teachers, and administrators reviewed the items and provided feedback to researchers. The subsequent IFK field-testing provided quantitative data that contributed to the testing of the technical properties of the tool (e.g., reliability and validity), and focus groups and individual interviews guided refinement of content, organization, and administration.

The current IFK is an observational tool consisting of items for rating preschool and kindergarten children in nine critical foundation areas: (1) representation, (2) language, (3) reading, (4) writing, (5) number sense and operations, (6) geometric and algebraic math, (7) science, (8) relationships and self-regulation, and (9) social problem solving. Each area includes five items that reflect a developmental progression of skills in an effort to insure that every child entering kindergarten can be rated on a scale of 1 to 5 (see Appendix A).

Preschool and kindergarten teachers rate children’s performance on the IFK over a 10-week period, September through November, based on observations of children in everyday classroom contexts. Both preschool and kindergarten teachers use the data to better understand the foundation skills that children demonstrate when they enter preschool or public school kindergarten. Teachers report that they use the IFK to communicate with families and early childhood programs about children making the transition from preschool to kindergarten. Teachers also report using IFK findings to reflect on how the curriculum supports children in the nine foundation areas.

Methods

Participants

Thirty-one teachers participated in the first two years of IFK field-testing. Fifteen preschool teachers and 16 kindergarten teachers rated a total of 564 children in their classrooms on the IFK during fall 2007, and 27 preschool teachers and 16 kindergarten teachers rated 700 children during fall 2008. Preschool and kindergarten programs were selected to represent the diverse demographic and geographic regions of the state. First, researchers contacted program administrators with an invitation to participate in the study. These administrators recommended preschool teachers. These teachers were then asked to submit names of kindergarten teachers in their community for participation. Initially, 16 kindergarten teachers and 15 preschool teachers volunteered for two years of field-testing. Seventy-five percent of participating preschool teachers and 100% of kindergarten teachers had earned BA/BS degrees. All kindergarten teachers held degrees and certification in elementary education, whereas the major fields of study for preschool teachers varied. Participants reported a range in the number of years of teaching experience; kindergarten teachers had 1 to 32 years of experience, while the experience of preschool teachers ranged from 0 to 22 years.  

Data Collection

During construction of the IFK, semi-structured focus group and individual interviews provided teacher feedback and suggestions regarding the organization, content, and rating system. In spring 2008, 24 teachers, 11 preschool and 13 kindergarten, self-selected into three focus groups held over a two-week period. Teachers were asked to reflect on their use of the IFK for assessing and supporting children’s skills and abilities. The purposes of the group interviews were for teachers to share their reaction to the new IFK, to solicit feedback and suggestions regarding the appropriateness of the content, and to highlight school transition issues. Special emphasis was placed on preschool and kindergarten teachers sharing their distinct perspectives, priorities, expectations, and practices. During fall 2008, just after rating children using the IFK, all teachers were invited to participate in follow-up individual phone interviews. Ten teachers, 5 preschool and 5 kindergarten, from different regions of the state volunteered. The interviews, conducted by the same researchers who led the focus groups, were approximately one hour long. Questions addressed ease of administration of the IFK, inclusiveness of items, and relevance of items for contributing to children’s success. Interview questions from spring 2008 focus groups and fall 2008 interviews are listed in Appendix B.

Data Analysis

Both group and individual teacher interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Teacher responses to prompts and questions were read and reread to identify emergent themes in the teacher’s words and ideas. All data were coded and separated by general themes in responses to questions. Questions addressed curriculum, expectations for children, assessment practices, and transition practices. Themes were compared and collapsed into categories that reflected the range of responses to each prompt or question. At times, it was necessary in the analysis process to separate responses by preschool and kindergarten teachers to preserve the unique perspectives of each group. 

Findings

During focus groups and individual interviews, participants shared information that they believed was beneficial for other educators to know about their children, their classrooms, and their efforts in supporting the transition from preschool to kindergarten settings. Generally, all teachers discussed their own values and demands of their programs that affected their practice and expectations of children. However, it was clear that preschool and kindergarten teachers had different and unique perspectives that they hoped others would grow to appreciate and value.

Sharing Perspectives

Teachers were asked to talk about their conceptions of school readiness and how they supported children through their curriculum and instruction. Preschool teachers wanted kindergarten teachers to understand and respect their efforts toward preparing children for school. They shared beliefs regarding teaching and learning in early childhood environments. One preschool teacher stated:

Our classroom is a very busy and active place. The learning that happens takes place in the context of play. There is real academic growth that occurs in the context of play in a setting that is not highly structured with a lot of sitting down and teacher-directed tasks. 

In general, preschool teachers stressed the importance of children’s learning experiences and how they prioritized their curriculum in ways that might be different from kindergarten teachers. One preschool teacher talked about her priorities:

They (my students) certainly can form the letters of their name, but we have spent a lot of time this year learning social skills and really emphasizing sharing and being part of a group and my class…they are just really socially and emotionally adept.

Expanding on this idea, teachers shared how they balanced child-centered practices with the skills that they believed children needed for kindergarten. Another preschool teacher stated:

For so long, kindergarten was the period when the kids learned socialization before they went to first grade…now it is something that we are trying to achieve in preschool before they get to kindergarten. Kindergarten is so academic now. We really struggle just to get them socialized.

In addition, preschool teachers expressed frustration with kindergarten teachers’ lack of understanding of preschool expectations and accountability. One preschool teacher explained:

I don’t think that kindergarten teachers understand that preschool teachers have standards they have to meet that are as intensive as kindergarten standards…they think that it is just day care or social-emotional only…they have no idea what we do. It’s like coming together and educating each other….

It is clear that the preschool teachers participating in this study recognized the need for more dialogue between the two groups of teachers as a way to create a system that supports children and teachers.

Kindergarten teachers had their own perspectives to share with preschool educators. Generally, they stressed the high demands placed on children to learn and respond positively to school rules and routines because of the demanding curriculum. One teacher commented:

We work so hard on socializing the kids and getting them to know the rules and routines and lining up…I have a school that is very structured and so getting them in the beginning of the year to know how to stand in a line, to know how to raise their hands, how to follow the rules of our routine because we do have such a structured curriculum.

Kindergarten teachers conveyed their expectations for success and shared stories about their role in preparing children for kindergarten. Another kindergarten teacher expressed concern about young children being able to engage in direct instruction:

I actually talked to the parents of the preschool children this year…. But I let my parents know for next year that kindergarten looks like first grade. I am required to teach a 90-minute direct instruction program, so it is not differentiated. Everybody gets the same thing. And I made sure to let my parents know that if the preschool teacher says they need to stay another year that please listen to her because then I see a lot of behavior problems in the classroom for kids that are not mature and ready for direct instruction. 

It is clear that both groups of teachers felt passionate about the work that they were doing to support children’s readiness and transition to kindergarten. However, the expectations of preschool and kindergarten teachers differed. The participants recognized this fact and supported having more dialogue between preschool and kindergarten teachers. Teachers believed that conversations about values and practices were a step toward creating a shared vision of readiness in the state.

Survey Relevance for Teachers

Participants were encouraged to reflect on the relevance of the unique blend of developmental (representation, language, relationships, and self-regulation and social problem solving) and academic content areas (reading, writing, math, and science) in creating a readiness tool that bridged preschool and kindergarten. While all foundation areas were important to participating teachers, preschool and kindergarten teachers weighted the relevance of developmental and content areas somewhat differently. 

Developmental Foundations. In examining the relevance of the foundation areas that address developmental skills more typical of the preschool curriculum, both groups of teachers had insights to share. For example, representation is a foundation area focusing on intellectual development as it occurs through children’s exploration of their environment and self-expression through modes such as words, movement, drawing, painting, building, dramatic play, and music. Every preschool teacher talked about representation as critical to supporting imagination in creative arts and play: “I think their imagination comes out, and their drawings are enriched because we play imagination games all the time…. I think using their imagination is good because kids just don’t know how to do that anymore.” Alternatively, kindergarten teachers valued representation as a way for children to internalize and demonstrate curricular concepts. One kindergarten teacher explained:

We have been talking about butterflies a lot recently and the anatomy of a butterfly and metamorphosis. The kids have been playing butterflies, and they have been helping to create their own wing costumes that they put on. They go through the stages of metamorphosis saying, “I am in the egg, and now I am a caterpillar.”

While kindergarten teachers incorporated representation activities into their teaching, these activities were ancillary rather than vital to the curriculum. “Everything we ever do has to be tied into some concept that needs to be demonstrated and have a grade put on it.” Generally, kindergarten teachers were more ambivalent than preschool teachers in talking about the value of representation in the curriculum because “our classrooms are so academic, this is probably the last thing we would be looking at right now.” To make this foundation area more meaningful for kindergarten, representation items were revised to include how children demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of curriculum concepts through creative expression.

All teachers interviewed believed that language development was vital for learning in school. Many concurred with a teacher who said, “Language is the most important skill of everything, and the more experiences children can have and the richer their language can be, the faster they are going to grow as a kindergartner.” Teachers looked for ways that children used language in functional and social ways during peer interactions and teacher-directed activities. One preschool teacher reflected on the importance of language: “They learn how to express their feelings and talk with their friends and how to come up with a solution and how to use that cooperative teamwork that they need if there is a conflict.” While teachers felt positive about language as a foundation area, they offered several suggestions based on “huge discrepancies” in children’s abilities. For example, several kindergarten teachers commented that the items in the area of language were very “simple” for their children who entered school with these skills. Teachers suggested improving the relevance of this foundation area to kindergarten by expanding it to include comprehension, sentence complexity, and vocabulary.

The foundation area of social problem solving highlights children’s ability to resolve conflicts with peers. Participating teachers shared a common value in the importance of this area and talked about their efforts to support social competence throughout the school day and year. Teachers talked about children entering school with varying problem-solving skills based on prior peer experiences, family characteristics, age, and environmental factors. In addition, they recognized that competence and independence during challenging interactions depended on the situation and context. One teacher offered:

Can boys and girls identify problems, or do they need an adult to help them?... It depends on the situation…. I had a hard time concretely saying, not yet or completely because it was never really completely, it depended on the situation. Sometimes they needed my help. I struggled with that part.

Despite children’s struggles in solving problems, teachers held high expectations for independence in this area. One teacher identified social maturity as an especially important indicator that a child is ready to enter kindergarten. She described the possession of conflict resolution skills as an aspect of that maturity. Teachers indicated that they felt strongly that the IFK should include foundation skills related to positive peer relationships and self-regulation in both cognitive and emotional ways.

Academic Foundations. Overall, participants recognized that the academic push in kindergarten influenced their values regarding developmental and academic foundation areas. Teachers discussed the importance of functional reading and writing as key foundations for children’s success in school. One teacher commented, “It is very important to me how the children view themselves as readers—if they turn to books for information…how they use books in the context of their learning.” However, kindergarten teachers shared that the IFK should include more discrete skills, such as phonemic awareness, that are often part of the literacy curriculum adopted by their schools. “If you look at the five foundations of reading, phonemic awareness is the first step and being able to manipulate and isolate sounds and rhyming. If they can do that, they can move into kindergarten…and work with sound-symbol relationships.” In response to this feedback, revised reading and writing items emphasized vocabulary, language complexity, rhyming, phonemic awareness, letter-sound association, and word reading. However, the IFK addressed those skills in a functional manner to preserve the authentic and integrated nature of the assessment. Note how the following item is written in a functional way to include the context in which children use specific skills. For example, the following item from the language area includes context for using language in the classroom:

3. Child uses language to develop play themes with peers and comments or answers simple questions about stories.

Teachers responded to the math area with suggestions because items focused on skills primarily related to categorization and patterns. Teachers expressed their belief in the importance of number recognition and counting as foundational to success in kindergarten. Participants agreed: “Patterning is not the first thing you look for in a child when they first come to kindergarten. Mathematically, you are looking for their ability to count and represent a number with objects.”

All teachers acknowledged the importance of science in the curriculum, but kindergarten teachers in particular talked about not being able to spend the time they would like on science. One teacher commented:

I think it is good to have science on the survey. We just don’t dive into science like we do with literacy and math, and it’s good to have science here. When I did the survey, it made me think about how little time I have for science. But I am going to try to get into it more next year.

Alternatively, preschool teachers all reported that they incorporated science in their curriculum: “I try to integrate [science] throughout the day with questioning children. I do use terms like hypothesis, and they love it and they use those terms and they understand them.” The sharing of values and practices that emerged during these discussions provided insight into the power of creating an assessment that highlights appropriate practice and influences curriculum decisions.

Survey Inclusiveness

The IFK was designed to appropriately assess children in preschool or kindergarten programs. Each foundation area includes a developmental progression of items that reflect skills that children of differing abilities might demonstrate. Teachers responded positively to the development of the IFK for both preschool and kindergarten teachers to use, literally putting teachers and children on the “same page.” One important value expressed by teachers is that all children belong and should be assessed:

I would like kindergarten teachers to know the amount of progress that my children have made through the course of their time with me—where they started and where they are now. Because sometimes in our transition, I think it is difficult to see the big picture if you only talk about where kids are now. And there might be some skills that children appear to be lacking in or might be lower than you would expect from a child their age, but in the context from where they started, it is monumental, that amount of growth they have made.

Teachers shared concern that children who were linguistically, culturally, and developmentally diverse not be penalized unfairly by this assessment. In response, the revised version of the IFK provided specific guidance for cultural sensitivity, working with children who were English language learners, and accommodating children with disabilities. Teachers shared strategies that they used to support all children so that they could function at their highest levels. Teachers reported having difficulty rating some children—for example, children with autism or children who were recent immigrants and for whom language translation was an issue. 

Discussion

This research process involved early childhood stakeholders from its conception. Giving voice to teacher values and priorities for children and their transition to school proved to be a powerful tool in creating a shared understanding of kindergarten readiness and shaped the construction and ongoing development of the statewide survey. Some key themes emerged from the process that warrant further discussion.

Bridging Early Childhood and Kindergarten

This research highlights the importance of preschool and kindergarten teachers working together as a foundation for building a system to support young children. As Early, Pianta, Taylor, and Cox (2001) assert, the establishment and maintenance of effective readiness practices depends upon collaborative thinking, relationships, and connections between individuals. Professionals have a range of beliefs and understandings about school readiness and the role it plays in the early childhood curriculum (Dockett & Perry, 2002), which complicated and enriched the creation of a relevant survey. Recognizing stakeholders’ concerns about their role in the transition to school, we sought with this research to encourage the sharing of insights and experiences in an effort to bridge two distinct systems.

Participating teachers found that the research process provided an opportunity to share perspectives on appropriate content and curriculum, what their children know and do, and their values regarding the transition to school. This dialogue was essential in creating a common vision among teachers for an observation tool that supports children in their learning environments rather than assessing their readiness for school. Through the process, teachers discovered potential areas for growth in their practice and professional development needs common to others. This research confirms that in order to develop an effective readiness assessment for all young children making the transition to kindergarten, ongoing dialogue between teachers should continue through shared professional development. A next phase in this process will be to expand the dialogue regarding kindergarten foundations to include families and a broader base of community members.

Relevance of Content

The participants recognized that stakeholders held varying expectations and understandings of school readiness, reflecting a complex view of the issue. Therefore, the construction of the IFK depended on identifying appropriate, functional activities that could be translated into meaningful survey items. This research encouraged teachers to determine the best measures of “readiness” by blending developmental and content areas that reflected who children are rather than solely focusing on the abilities and skills they wish children to possess (Dockett & Perry, 2002).

Participants found that one of the most appealing features of the IFK was its usefulness in assessing both preschool and kindergarten children, providing an understanding of the foundational skills of children in the state. The commitment to blending developmental domains and academic content in the survey communicated a shared vision of what is important for children as they make the transition to kindergarten. Since content of an appropriate readiness survey should reflect the values of the community (Graue, 1993), the sharing of information between teachers was the most important aspect of this process for identifying foundations for success in kindergarten. The foundation areas prioritized by the teachers in this state served as a basis for developing functional items appropriate for all children, regardless of curriculum or ideological approach to classroom practice.

Inclusiveness

Both preschool and kindergarten teachers conceptualized readiness as part of their responsibility (Dockett & Perry, 2002) and found the IFK to be useful in supporting their efforts to understand the continuum of developmental skills and academic abilities indicative of the diverse population of children making the transition to school. One of the key features of the IFK was the development of each foundation area to include items that reflect a range of skills and abilities demonstrated by children. Teachers' understanding of the interrelated nature of development and learning in real-life contexts served as a foundation for the creation of items on the IFK. Teachers defended the rights of the children with diverse backgrounds and abilities in their classes and reflected on their responsibility to support every child entering school, avoiding the trend of identifying who is or is not ready (Graue, 2006).

Appropriate Authentic Assessment

Teachers reflected on the changing focus of readiness from interrelated developmental domains (Snow, 2007) to isolated academic skills (Kagan & Kauerz, 2007), yet they resisted the pressure to use a high-stakes standardized approach to assessing readiness utilized by many states (Graue, 2006). They valued their involvement in the creation of an assessment tool that aligned with early learning and kindergarten standards, reflected a wide range of frequently used curriculum-based assessments, and focused on demonstration of skills in everyday contexts.

From the beginning, teachers insisted that the IFK reflect appropriate assessment practices and be meaningful to those using it. Participants stressed the importance of including as few items as possible to minimize the time it would take to rate each of their children but requested expanding some foundation areas to provide a more holistic understanding of children. Teachers also wanted extended time to observe and complete the survey. As a result of these recommendations, the IFK includes foundation areas that integrate developmental domains and academic content, address everyday skills and activities, provide teachers months to gather data, and use a rating system that allows for every child to be assessed. The simplified survey was appropriate for professionals with a range of education and experiences in early childhood and kindergarten settings, lending itself to system building across the state.

Appropriate Practice

Professionals identified the limitations in moving away from child-centered curriculum and learning in order to focus on predetermined standards expected by the state as children make the transition from preschool into kindergarten settings. Through conversations, the tensions and disconnection between early childhood and kindergarten programs and practices emerged. As they shared values and insights, the teachers rejected the notion of readiness as a standard defined by discrete skills, which shifted the thinking of researchers and policy makers toward a focus on instructional foundations that can be observed over time. Because of practitioner participation in the construction of an instrument, feedback has been increasingly supportive and positive. Teachers share how the IFK provides justification for engaging children in a range of developmental and academic activities, influencing how teachers assess, plan, and schedule.

Teachers indicated that this assessment could be a foundation for continued discussion of shared and divergent beliefs related to appropriate practices and meeting needs of children, families, schools, and communities.

Implications and Future Direction

This article describes the collaborative process of researcher-teacher participation in the development of the IFK as a readiness assessment tool during 2007-2009 field-testing. This initial effort involved a limited group of preschool and kindergarten teachers willing to begin a dialogue about values and expectations with regard to school readiness, curriculum, and assessment practices. Discussions among teachers exposed both similarities and differences in thinking about what is important for young children as they approach school entry and what constitutes appropriate practice in preschool and kindergarten classrooms. This first phase in the development of a readiness system in Wyoming provoked important debate among stakeholders regarding readiness assessments. Dialogue between early childhood and kindergarten teachers was a means of establishing shared values and commitment to children making the transition to school.

On the basis of teacher feedback, the IFK was revised by researchers and the Wyoming Department of Education in spring 2009. Because teachers identified challenges in rating children who were culturally and linguistically diverse as well as children with disabilities, language items on the IFK were revised to include examples that reflected the abilities of all children.

Teachers requested that an additional foundation area addressing prosocial relationships and self-regulation be added to the survey. A third major revision was the expansion of the math foundation area to include both number sense and operations and geometric and algebraic math. In addition, a comment box was added to the IFK to provide teachers space to explain concerns related to rating a child accurately and fairly. Information in the comment box is critical so that teachers can make accommodations in assessment and curriculum planning for children with special needs.

This study demonstrates the power of participatory research in Wyoming, a rural state that values local control. Participating teachers embraced their responsibility to children and the field by resisting trends toward formal assessment of discrete academic skills used to define children’s readiness. Recognizing that the process could potentially marginalize or exclude children from entering school, teachers collaborated in constructing a survey designed to support all children. Their perspective valued authentic assessment, a holistic understanding of the child, and the integration of content and developmental foundations. Teachers recognized the importance of embracing the experiences of children as connected and dependent aspects for understanding their readiness. By defining readiness in terms of expectations for children and schools, it may be possible to improve the preparation of both, thereby creating a much better match between children and schools. This research on the development of the IFK as a readiness assessment tool for Wyoming opens the door for a statewide discussion among families, community stakeholders, academic professionals, early childhood caregivers/teachers, and administrators. Wyoming offers a unique opportunity for this statewide discussion given the relatively small population and the connectedness of stakeholders in the state. 

Currently, the IFK is being used as a tool for assessing child performance and serves as a guide for teachers who provide important instructional foundations to support children’s transition into kindergarten programs. During the 2009-2010 school year, all public school kindergarten teachers and state-supported preschool teachers in Wyoming participated in rating children on the IFK. Data collection was highly successful in that 507 preschool children and 7,293 (98%) kindergarten students were rated on the IFK. Researchers interviewed both preschool and kindergarten teachers once again in fall 2009 to gather input on the IFK observation tool, the rating process, the transition process, and teacher expectations for children as they move from early childhood settings into public school kindergarten. Wyoming now has an unprecedented view of child performance in key foundations areas included on the IFK. Teachers have shared a wealth of information about what readiness means for them and how children thrive or struggle in preschool and kindergarten classrooms. Addressing the stress and tension associated with meeting the needs of diverse groups of children while preparing them for the ever-increasing academic demands of kindergarten was an essential issue that emerged in interviews with all teachers. These statewide child outcome data and teacher interview data are now being analyzed and will be reported in an upcoming publication. 

In keeping with the conceptual model adopted for building a system of readiness in the state (Ready Children, Schools, Families, and Communities), the next phase of this research must include family and community members’ perspectives on school readiness. Based on the understanding that Ready Families–Ready Communities are integrally tied to Ready Children–Ready Schools, future research endeavors will bring essential voices and resources into this system building process. The results of an analysis of these data from family and community members will contribute to the ongoing evolution of the IFK as a readiness assessment tool. Expanding the dialogue to these early childhood stakeholders will contribute to our understanding of what readiness means in family and community contexts outside of the classroom. 

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Author Information

Tricia Giovacco Johnson is an assistant professor in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the University of Wyoming. Her research interest in early childhood teacher education focuses on innovative practices, applied ethics, and service learning. She collaborates with the Wyoming Department of Education on issues related to kindergarten readiness and the transition process in the state.

Tricia Giovacco Johnson
University of Wyoming
College of Education
Dept. 3374, Elementary and Early Childhood Education
1000 E. University Avenue
Laramie, WY 82071
Telephone: 307-766-4002
Fax: 307-766-2018
Email: tjohns39@uwyo.edu

Michelle Buchanan is an associate professor in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education at the University of Wyoming. She has more than 30 years' experience in the fields of early childhood and early childhood special education. Her research and teaching interests include the assessment of young children with special needs and inclusion and blended practice in early childhood education/special education.

Michelle Buchanan
University of Wyoming
College of Education
Dept. 3374, Elementary and Early Childhood Education
1000 E. University Avenue
Laramie, WY 82071
Telephone: 307-766-3211
Fax: 307-766-2018
Email: MLBuchan@uwyo.edu

Appendix A
Instructional Foundations for Kindergarten Survey Items

Representation

  1. Child represents emotions and familiar experience through actions.
  2. Child acts out a single dramatic play theme using realistic props.
  3. Child uses construction to represent ideas in pretend play using a variety of materials.
  4. Child uses his/her understanding of basic concepts during play.
  5. Child uses drama, storytelling, construction, songs, and a variety of materials to demonstrate knowledge across the curriculum.

Language

  1. Child uses some verbal and nonverbal language (gestures, one or two words) to communicate with others.
  2. Child talks about what he/she is doing during play and classroom activities.
  3. Child uses language to develop play themes with peers and comments on and answers simple questions about stories.
  4. Child comprehends and uses complex sentences to express feelings and ideas in conversations and group activities with peers.
  5. Child uses a variety of words that indicate a large vocabulary in conversations, class activities, and group discussions.

Writing

  1. Child makes marks and scribbles on paper.
  2. Child uses pretend writing in play to represent thoughts and ideas on paper.
  3. Child writes some recognizable letters of name and names one or two letters.
  4. Child writes familiar words to express thoughts and ideas through copying or writing by memory.
  5. Child attempts to connect sounds in a word with its letterforms in writing using invented spelling.

Reading

  1. Child shows an interest in books, other print, and reading-related activities, including using books and print in his/her play.
  2. Child holds book conventionally, turns pages, and comments on pictures on the cover or in the book.
  3. Child enjoys listening to songs, poems, and books that have rhyme and word play and likes playing with sounds of language in rhyming.
  4. Child identifies environmental print familiar words and recognizes first sounds in some words.
  5. Child points to and reads some words in books or helps to read a story.

Geometric and Algebraic Math

  1. Child uses three-dimensional shapes in play.
  2. Child sorts objects on the basis of one attribute.
  3. Child recognizes and creates a simple pattern.
  4. Child sorts, classifies, and orders objects using a combination of attributes.
  5. Child duplicates and extends simple patterns to create more complex patterns.

Number Sense and Operations

  1. Child gives one object to an adult when adult asks for one.
  2. Child knows names of some numbers and uses numbers for counting, not necessarily accurately.
  3. Child uses one-to-one correspondence to count five or more objects.
  4. Child looks at groups of objects, makes comparisons, and states the number of objects up to 10.
  5. Child uses numeracy skills to solve simple problems.

Science

  1. Child explores a variety of materials using all senses.
  2. Child identifies characteristics of materials and purposefully attempts to change characteristics.
  3. Child notes and describes change process and result.
  4. Child asks questions and seeks answers about her/his environment through active engagement with materials.
  5. Child can create a simply theory about change and manipulate materials to test and revise hypothesis.

Relationships and Self-Regulation

  1. Child plays beside and occasionally interacts with peers in play for brief periods of time.
  2. Child sustains attention and engagement in self-chosen, preferred activities alone and with peers.
  3. Child cooperates with peers in taking on roles in dramatic play and classroom routines.
  4. Child can sustain attention and engagement in teacher-planned group activities and games in the classroom.
  5. Child plans and chooses strategies to complete activities or projects in the classroom.

Social Problem Solving

  1. Child is able to express emotions in a way that others can understand.
  2. Child uses an adult to solve problems in conflicts with peers.
  3. Child is aware of and responds to the feelings and perspectives of others.
  4. Child uses problem-solving strategies learned in classroom to solve problems with peers.
  5. Child can negotiate with peers to resolve conflicts.

Appendix B
Interview Questions

Spring 2008 Focus Group Questions

  1. Preschool teachers, what do you want kindergarten teachers to know about your kids and your classroom?

    Kindergarten teachers, what do you want preschool teachers to know about what it is like for your kids at the beginning of the year in your classroom?
  2. Preschool teachers, please identify what you think is important for your children to know and do before entering kindergarten. What would that look like in the classroom?

    Kindergarten teachers, please identify what you think is important for kids entering kindergarten to know and do. What would that look like in the classroom?
  3. Please provide feedback on your experience filling out the survey, what worked and what didn’t?
  4. Teachers, reflect on the seven foundation areas. What do you think about the category and the items, and does it reflect what you think is important for kids in your classroom? What would you change about the category or items?
  5. Keeping in mind that our goal is that every child can be rated on this survey, what is your impression of the current rating scale? Did you like it? What might improve it?
  6. Is there anything else you would like us to think about as we revise the survey for next year?

Fall 2008 Interview Questions


Administration

  1. Talk about your experience in filling out the IFK for children in your class this fall.
  2. Were items, demographic, and child performance items, clear? Were guidelines for filling out the survey and rating children useful? Please share ideas for improving the ease of administration of this survey.
  3. What are some ways that you gather data to rate children on the survey items? Were there opportunities to observe child performance on items in everyday contexts of classroom/curriculum? 
  4. Does the two and one-half month period for rating children make sense? Are there recommendations you would offer others who will be filling this out next fall?


Inclusiveness of Survey Items

  1. Does the item pool allow for rating the lowest and highest functioning children in your class? English Language Learners? Those with different temperaments or experiences in preschool? 
  2. Think of a child who was difficult to rate on this survey. Why and what could be done to better include that child in this process? 


Relevance of Survey Items

  1. Do items reflect what you think is important for children to know and do in your classroom? 
  2. As a teacher, how do you use what you learn about children based on filling out the IFK? Would you be interested in using the survey at the beginning and end of year to look at progress through the year? 
  3. What are some ways that the IFK could be used to build bridges between preschool and kindergarten programs?