Districts make way for KIDS

This article previously appeared in the Illinois Association of School Boards’ Illinois School Board Journal.

By Melissa Figueira
Policy Associate

In the fall of 2017, following successful pilots in districts across the state, the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey, or KIDS, will be implemented in Illinois. So what exactly is KIDS and what does the statewide rollout mean for your school district?

Improving the quality of early learning is an especially critical issue facing school board members today.   Evidence supporting the foundational importance of child development in the early years is insurmountable. Study after study has consistently demonstrated that a child’s growth in key domains — including social and emotional learning, language and literacy, mathematics, and approaches to learning — correlates to long-term education outcomes. An estimated 90 percent of brain development happens in the first five years of life.

While we know that early childhood and early elementary education set the stage for future learning, until now, educators in Illinois have not had consistent tools and data to gain a thorough and comprehensive picture of students’ capabilities when they enter the classroom. KIDS is designed to provide exactly that picture.

In 2010, a planning committee of early childhood advocates, educators, elementary teachers and administrators, child development specialists, and Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) staff members partnered with WestEd Center for Child and Family Studies to develop KIDS. The tool is developmentally appropriate, firmly grounded in research, validated, and aligned with both the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards (IELDS) and Illinois Early Learning Standards–Kindergarten (IELS-K).

KIDS in the classroom

As kindergarteners learn and play, the tool allows teachers to take stock of each individual child’s strengths and to identify challenges. Throughout the school day, teachers will observe child interactions and collect work samples during routine classroom activities. Teachers will then place each child’s abilities on the KIDS developmental continuum based on these observations, and enter that information into a secure online system called KIDStech.

Designed with input from practitioners, KIDS addresses a number of key concerns that have been expressed by teachers and administrators alike. Because the tool is observational, it allows students to continue to engage in rich play-based learning without being interrupted by intrusive evaluations. By the same token, it allows teachers to collect information more seamlessly as they go about their daily business of teaching rather than detracting from it.

Key to continuous improvement

Once information is gathered by teachers, what comes next?

KIDS data can be used to easily generate report cards and progress reports that reflect a child’s development. With the insights provided by the KIDS tool, teachers can gain a deeper understanding of their students’ development and tailor their instruction to better meet specific needs. In addition, schools and school districts will finally gain a common language around kindergarten readiness. This will help in designing relevant professional development opportunities for school staff, communicating clearly with parents and families about their child’s growth, and aligning early childhood and K-12 systems.

On a broader scale, aggregate KIDS data can inform advocates and community stakeholders about areas of greatest student need. Armed with that knowledge, policymakers can work to align resources to most efficiently serve families and children in the years prior to kindergarten and formal schooling. The fuller statewide picture of kindergarten readiness provided by KIDS will also help inform the policies Illinois develops around providing supports to schools under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Ultimately, the statewide snapshot provided by KIDS presents an opportunity to inform policies that can help close achievement gaps and help Illinois reach its goal of ensuring that 60 percent of Illinoisans earn a postsecondary degree or credential by the year 2025.

Resources for schools and districts

Such a large rollout of a new tool requires trainings so that school districts are equipped with the knowledge and skills to comfortably and confidently use the tool to its fullest potential. With that in mind, ISBE offers a variety of resources for administrators, teachers, and families, which are available at www.isbe.net/KIDS. A number of trainings are taking place through September, for which teachers and administrators can register on the KIDS website. Additionally, ISBE has regional coaches available to support districts and schools with KIDS implementation by answering questions or making onsite visits. On an ongoing basis, ISBE will also be offering webinars and online tutorials throughout KIDS implementation to support administrators, teachers, and families.

KIDS in action

KIDS has been piloted across the state since 2012, engaging more than 50,000 children to date. The pilot has informed updates and adjustments to improve the tool in advance of the statewide implementation this year. The stories that have emerged from teachers, administrators, and families in those early adopting districts speak more powerfully than anything else does to the usefulness of the KIDS tool. Here’s a snapshot of lessons learned from two districts that are using KIDS to improve instruction.

Lessons from Morrison CUSD 6:

  • When teachers shifted from a compliance mentality to embracing KIDS, it helped them improve their instruction.
    • KIDS can be a lever to help move districts toward a more developmentally appropriate kindergarten curriculum. It’s helpful — even easy — for more isolated, small communities to create professional KIDS learning networks with surrounding districts to share tips and strategies.
    • KIDS allows teachers to reduce the variety of assessments on isolated standards and instead have more time to observe kindergarteners in their natural environment.

Lessons from Giant City CCSD 130 in Carbondale:

  • Observational assessment is just as important in kindergarten as it is in Pre-K, and can jump start learning in a way that makes it easier to reach 3rd grade proficiency.
  • Other school staff can help collect KIDS observations, including art, music, physical education teachers, aides and monitors, and feel more engaged in each child’s development.
  • Using KIDS data to generate report cards allows districts to eliminate other assessments and leave more time for teaching.
  • Report cards are easily generated from KIDS data and provide the opportunity for teachers to have more meaningful conversations with families around how to best support each child’s development.

To read more about Morrison, Giant City, and other pilot programs, and discover more about the KIDS observational tool and its implementation, visit the Illinois State Board of Education website.

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