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March 09, 2009

Explanation Provided?

Liz Willen of EarlyStories asked for an explanation of how pre-k students will be tracked in the Maryland P-12 education system. I am not sure I can find the answers she is looking for but I thought I would give it a try.

I think that Willen may have really wanted to know what types of data would be used to track students and if the data would be collected through standardized testing. I did a little research and found this on Maryland's accountability system from the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center website (NCCIC).

Each fall, all kindergarten teachers assess children using a modified version of the Work Sampling System and report this data to the Department of Education. The Department of Education submits a report based on this and other data to the General Assembly each November about the level of school readiness statewide.

This was really intriguing to me because our system currently uses a combination of the HighScope Child Observation Record (COR) and the Phonemic Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS). Both of these assessments are teacher intensive. In some areas, they overlap. The COR uses teacher observations that are scored on a developmental scale from 1-5 with five meaning the child is roughly at a five year old level. This data is reported to Head Start but not the state. The state funded program uses a pre-test post-test system based on Virginia's Foundation Blocks (pdf). The PALS is an excellent assessment tool that provides detailed information on students reading skills including letter identification, begining sound awareness, rhyming, and print and word awareness. This data is then used to develop individual learning plans for every student.

The Maryland Model for School Readiness has been touted as an outstanding example of effective early childhood intervention and accountability system that incorporates instruction, assessment, communication, programmatic collaboration, and professional development. On closer inspection, the Work Sampling System acually seems to be the strongest accountability tool I have ever seen. I can't do it justice by describing it myself so here is a paragraph from FairTest.org the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

The system is based on seven domains or categories, each with performance indicators: Personal and Social Development (focusing on self identity, the self as a learner, and social development); Language and Literacy ( based on the theory that students learn to read and write the way they learn to speak, naturally and slowly); Mathematical Thinking (focusing on children s approaches to mathematical thinking and problem solving); Scientific Thinking (emphasizing the processes of scientific investigation, because process skills are embedded in and fundamental to all science instruction and content); Social Studies (understanding from personal experience and by learning about the experiences of others); The Arts (focusing on how using and appreciating the arts enables children to demonstrate what they know and to expand their thinking); and, Physical Development (developing fine and gross motor skills and a growing competence to understand and manage personal health and safety).

As a teacher who uses assessment to drive instruction in my classroom I am actually starting to get a little data envy at this point. The assessment uses developmental checklists and portfolios to collect data. FairTest goes on:

The Work Sampling System is a continuous assessment format which helps teachers, families and students gain perspective on the student s development and skills over an eight-year period, from ages three to 11. It allows schools to create mixed-age groupings in classrooms if desired, and allows for longitudinal study over time to examine how a child has developed. The continuous use also allows parents and families to become extremely familiar with the assessment system and its benefits.

Wait a minute! The Work Sampling System actually goes from age three to 11? That means that pre-k isn't considered an add-on program in Maryland. No wonder they were named the nation's best state school system by Education Week. With an assessment tool that already tracks from three to 11 it will be much easier than I thought for Maryland to take that system all the away up to college. Heck, most of the work is already done by addressing the hardest to assess grades, the pre-literate grade levels.

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