RD466 - Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program October 2021 Report for the 2020-2021 School Year
The Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP) empowers Virginia’s teachers and education leaders by providing a comprehensive set of assessments that shine a spotlight on kindergarten readiness and growth in student learning. VKRP is a Virginia standards-aligned, multi-year school readiness assessment system that produces actionable information to guide decisions at the student, classroom, school and division levels before and after kindergarten entry to support student learning. VKRP provides assessments of mathematics, self-regulation, and social skills to complement Virginia’s longstanding use of the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screener (PALS). From 2014 through 2018, CASTL implemented VKRP through a voluntary rollout where, each year, an increasing number of divisions elected to implement VKRP. VKRP began statewide kindergarten implementation in the 2019-20 school year. The VKRP team has been developing a preschool extension of VKRP since 2018. The preschool VKRP pilot continued this year in over 350 classrooms, including assessments of more than 4,000 preschoolers within 142 early childhood education programs. This report provides a status update on VKRP, summarizing VKRP kindergarten and pre-kindergarten data from the 2020-2021 academic year.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic caused sudden and long-lasting changes to children’s lives. The extent to which COVID-19 has and will disrupt students’ educational experience and learning is hard to quantify. Children lost connections to their teachers and peers with the initial closure of school buildings and onset of remote learning. Parents and caregivers lost jobs, and some children lost loved ones. These significant disruptions to children’s everyday experiences impacted their academic learning and social-emotional development. In the 2020-21 school year, many schools shifted between in person, online, and remote formats due to changing levels of risk in their communities. Despite these challenges, kindergarten students statewide were assessed using VKRP in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, providing a snapshot of where Virginia’s kindergarten children stand with regard to their early academic and social-emotional development as we enter the 2021-2022 school year. VKRP also responded to COVID-19 by adding a set of items to address student wellbeing, in order to better capture student social-emotional health in the face of unprecedented disruptions. In this report, we present fall 2020 and spring 2021 VKRP data, including data from assessments of mathematics, self-regulation, social skills, and wellbeing. We also present fall and spring pilot data from the voluntary implementation of the preschool extension of VKRP.
VKRP highlights the strengths of Virginia’s prekindergarten and kindergarten students and brings attention to areas in which students need greater support to maximize their learning. For teachers and school personnel, VKRP and PALS data can be used to drive day-to-day instruction, start conversations with families, and inform decisions about teachers’ professional development needs. At the state level, comprehensive readiness data can inform policy decisions and help identify regions in need of the most support.
In this report, we present VKRP data collected during the 2020-2021 school year during the COVID-19 pandemic with the hope that these data will be used by various stakeholders to better understand children’s academic and social-emotion development while engaged in various forms of remote, hybrid, or socially-distanced learning. This understanding can lead to better supports for children during the 2020-2021 school year to assist with recovery from the disruptions to formal learning and to support the continued building of new skills.
Defining Readiness for Summative Data Purposes
Virginia defines school readiness as, “the capabilities of children, their families, schools, and communities that best promote student success in kindergarten and beyond." The readiness estimate is calculated based upon the expected skill levels of a kindergarten student at the beginning (fall) and end (spring) of the school year. For summative purposes, students are categorized as above the benchmark or ready if they demonstrate minimally expected skills (for fall or spring depending upon the data timepoint) for literacy, math, self-regulation, and social skills. If a kindergarten student does not demonstrate the minimally expected skill in one or more areas at the respective time-point (fall or spring) they are categorized as below the benchmark or not ready. More information regarding VKRP’s history, the VKRP measure itself, and how it is used for summative purposes can be found in Appendices C through G.
Kindergarten Students Assessed
In the fall of 2020, teachers assessed approximately 94% of eligible kindergarteners on the PALS literacy assessment and 42% of eligible kindergarteners on the Early Mathematics Assessment System (EMAS) mathematics assessment. Assessment rates for the EMAS were lower for the EMAS because no remote version was available in the fall. Approximately 94% of eligible kindergarteners were rated by teachers on self-regulation and social skills on the Child Behavior Rating Scale (CBRS). 94% of students were also assessed on their well-being. Statewide, ~37% of kindergarten students enrolled in the fall of 2020 had complete VKRP data on literacy (PALS), math, self-regulation, and social skills assessments in the fall of 2020. This lower percentage of students with complete assessments was due to the large number of students engaged in remote learning and there was no remote assessment option available for the EMAS in fall 2020.
Below we summarize the key findings from the 2020-21 school year. It is difficult to overestimate the traumatic impact that COVID-19 has had on many children’s lives. Education leaders and teachers were faced with the challenge to quickly transition from in-person to socially distanced, virtual, and remote learning—learning formats that are not conducive to connecting with and teaching young children. Parents and caregivers lost their jobs, students lost connections to their peers, and some students lost loved ones. The disruptions that COVID-19 had on the school experience for students and teachers are reflected in the data we present below, in the implementation supports we offered to the field, and in our plans moving forward.
Fall 2020 VKRP Data
~37% of kindergarten students were assessed on all four measures. This lower percentage of students with complete assessment data was due to the large number of students engaged in remote learning without a remote assessment option for the EMAS in fall 2020.
Approximately 55% of fully-assessed students met the benchmark in all four areas-literacy, mathematics, self-regulation and social skills. This means that 45% of kindergarteners fell below the benchmark in one or more foundational areas of learning in fall 2020.
Spring 2021 VKRP Data
~87% of kindergarten students were assessed on all four measures. This higher percentage of students with complete data was due to the availability of a remote option for the EMAS math assessment.
Approximately 48% of these children met the benchmark on all four assessments. More than half (52%) of Virginia’s kindergarteners ended the school year still needing to build foundational skills in literacy, math, self-regulation, and/or social skills.
This is the first year that kindergarten students statewide were assessed on VKRP in the spring. COVID-19 school closures in the spring of 2020 resulted in VKRP not being administered in the spring of 2020. As such, there are no prior years’ data to compare with this year’s results. However, it is likely that the spring 2021 proportion of children not meeting the benchmark is higher than would be expected in a typical year and represents a seven-percentage point increase from fall 2020 in students categorized as below benchmark.
Students with Public Preschool Experience were More Likely to be Classified as Ready
For students coming from low-income backgrounds, children who participated in public preschool were significantly more likely to arrive to kindergarten in fall of 2020 demonstrating readiness skills (48% ready) compared to children from low-income backgrounds who were reported to not attend any preschool (32% ready). In the spring, children from low-income backgrounds who participated in public preschool continued be more likely to meet or exceed the spring benchmark (33% ready) compared to children who were reported to not attend any preschool (28% ready).
Readiness Estimates Vary by Student Demographic Characteristics
Students falling below the benchmark at the beginning and end of kindergarten were disproportionately more likely to be students from low-income backgrounds, students with a disability, students who are English language learners, and students who are Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino of any race, American Indian or Alaska native, or students of 2 or more races. These patterns point to systemic disparities in opportunities and educational experiences available to students and their families both pre-pandemic (e.g., systemic racism, access to high quality early learning opportunities that meets children’s cultural, linguistic, and developmental needs) and post-pandemic (e.g., availability of in-person instruction, access to technology, opportunity for individualized instruction, access to special education services), and elevate concerns that disparities were likely exacerbated during the 2020-2021 school year.
• In fall 2020, about 56% of students from low-income backgrounds did not meet the fall VKRP benchmark. In spring 2021, 67% of students from low income-backgrounds did not meet the spring benchmark.
• In fall 2020, 66% of students with a disability did not meet the fall VKRP benchmark. In spring 2021, 75% of these students did not meet the spring benchmark.
• In fall 2020, 70% of students who were English language learners did not meet the fall VKRP benchmark. In spring 2021, 70% of ELL students did not meet the spring benchmark.
• In fall 2020, 60% of Hispanic/Latino of any race, 57% of American Indian or Alaska native, 54% of Black or African American, 48% of students who were 2-or more races, 39% of White, 33% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 31% of Asian students did not meet the benchmark.
In spring 2021, 68% of Hispanic/Latino of any race, 49% of American Indian or Alaska native, 65% of Black or African American, 48% of students who were 2-or more races, 42% of White, 47% of Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 35% of Asian students did not meet the benchmark.
Supporting Kindergarten Student’s Social-Emotional Development – New Well-Being Data
To provide more information on students’ well-being during COVID-19, VKRP added new teacher report items to better understand teachers’ perceptions of students’ mental health and well-being. Teachers reported being moderately, very, or extremely concerned about the mental health and social-emotional well-being for about 11% of kindergarten students. This estimate was stable from fall to spring.
In a survey of teachers’ perceptions of students’ well-being, teachers expressed concerns with the effects of virtual instruction on students’ social-emotional development and well-being. One kindergarten teacher noted: I have taught virtually for the entire school year. I'm very concerned about my students' social skills and self-regulation since they have never been in a classroom setting. The transition for some students from home where a parent is helping them to 1st grade on their own may be difficult.
Continued Preschool VKRP Piloting
An equitable, culturally and linguistically sensitive, high quality preschool experience supports young children to develop school readiness skills and helps prepare them for kindergarten. Since 2015 (the beginning of VKRP’s statewide rollout), division and program leaders, principals, and teachers have repeatedly asked for early learning assessments that measure preschool children’s growth over time. Our team has been working on a preschool extension of VKRP since 2018. Longitudinal data allows preschool programs to examine their student school readiness data to determine progress toward meeting goals for student learning within the preschool year and across years over time to inform continuous improvement of the preschool experience and to target funds toward quality improvement efforts aligned with the data (e.g., services provided to support teacher-child interactions, professional development, curriculum). At the individual child level, VKRP data can be used to better individualize instruction, experiences, and services to support a young child’s learning and development.
The preschool VKRP pilot continued this year in over 350 classrooms, including assessments of more than 4,000 preschoolers within 142 early childhood education programs. Although the pilot sample is small relative to Virginia’s public pre-k population and is not representative of that population, the results indicate that teachers were able to administer the assessments with high levels of fidelity, that the measures function well for preschool students, and that the system is ready for scale in the 2021-22 school year for 4-year-old students.
Virginia’s youngest learners come to preschool and kindergarten having had many different experiences and varied exposure to early learning opportunities. This will be especially true for this coming 2021-22 school year, as the global pandemic has led to disruption, stress, and in some cases, trauma, for our preschool and kindergarten learners. The large differences in children’s learning experiences during the 2020-2021 school year will result in classrooms where the variation across students’ skills will be wider (classrooms will be more heterogeneous than in the past with respect to children’s academic and social-emotional skill development) compared to prior years.
Students will need tailored academic and social-emotional supports across the school year to engage in unfinished learning and to continue building new skills. This coming school year, accelerating student progress while attending to students’ social-emotional needs will require divisions and schools to be proactive in determining how to support teachers and meet each student’s needs.
Educators and administrators can use VKRP data, in combination with other formative and summative assessments to help target individualized instruction, determine teacher professional development needs, and at the state level, inform policy decisions and help identify regions in need of the most support.
In the 2021-2022 school year VKRP is:
• Expanding. VKRP will be used in publicly funded prekindergarten classrooms. VKRP data in pre-k will allow teachers to better understand the early foundational skills that young children are bringing to the classroom, and to provide rich interactions and learning opportunities to support growth and development.
• Extending. In collaboration with PALS, VKRP is developing and testing an extension of the VKRP assessments to be used with children as young as 3-years-old.
• Collaborating. VKRP is closely collaborating with PALS around the development and implementation of PALS pre-k, PALS 2.0, and PALS en Español. The teams regularly work together on assessment development, technology system development and expansion, data integration, teacher and administrator training, and data usage and reporting.
• Flexing. The VKRP will continue to provide both in person and remote assessments and provide guidance to divisions on how to assess students regardless of their mode of instruction.
• Supporting. As we have done in kindergarten, VKRP will support pre-k teachers and programs by providing high-quality training opportunities, just-in-time supports, access to data reports, and a suite of high-quality instructional resources.