NJ To Pilot Early Testing for Kindergarten

John Mooney | September 26, 2012 | Education
Pilot program will measure social, academic development in seven districts

As part of the Christie administration’s latest push for early literacy, the state is launching a pilot program for testing children as they enter kindergarten.

New Jersey has enlisted six school districts and a charter school to test out the new “kindergarten entry assessment” (KEA), which will measure children for basic academic and social development.

Nearly 50 teachers and administrators in the districts began training in August to learn to use a commercial assessment tool called Teaching Strategies GOLD.

New Jersey joins Delaware, Colorado and Washington in using the new assessment tool, the company announced this month. State officials said they chose the Maryland-based company’s program because it is easy to use and aligns with the national Common Core State Standards.

The pilot program will be expanded next year and could eventually be phased in statewide, the company and officials said.

Early assessments have been gaining attention as preschool programs continue to take on a bigger role in states’ efforts to improve public schools.

Acting state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf last week mentioned the pilot to district superintendents, saying it would be part of a new push to make sure students can read on grade level by the end of third grade.

New Jersey missed out last year in a federal Race to the Top competition for funding earmarked for early childhood education, with such assessments required for winning states. One of the shortcomings cited in the state’s application was a lack of specifics for its assessment plan.

This is a far cry from the familiar standardized testing for older students, based more on observation and performance to determine if children are coming into kindergarten ready for academic work.

“Where are the students at the various stages of kindergarten in terms of their readiness, their interaction with other children, their ability to follow instructions and stay on task?” asked Laura Morana, superintendent of Red Bank schools, one of the pilot districts.

The other participating districts are Bellmawr, Freehold, Kingwood, Clinton Township, and Garfield. The John P. Holland Charter School in Paterson is also participating. Nearly 800 students overall will take part.

Morana said her district has been assessing incoming kindergarteners for several years, but added that she was enthusiastic for the district to be part of the development of a statewide model.

“This is a hot topic on the national level, and we’re eager to be a part of it,” she said.