Evaluating kindergartners for the future

Robert Houk • Jun 2, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Education and economic development officials in Washington County are partnering to conduct a broad evaluation of kindergartners in several key learning areas.

The Early Development Instrument will be given in the kindergarten classes of all Johnson City and Washington County schools in November. The EDI, which was developed by the University of California, Los Angeles, is being funded through a $50,000 grant from the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Tennessee Foundation, as well as $20,000 each from city schools, county schools, the city of Johnson City and Washington County. 

Lottie Ryans, director of workforce and literacy initiatives for the First Tennessee Development District, said the program will provide city and county leaders with a snapshot of where 5-year-olds stand when it comes to competency in five unique foundations of learning.

These assessments — based on information provided by classroom teachers — will be used to create maps for policy and budget makers showing areas of the county where more resources might be needed to help kindergartners meet those goals.

“We would like to see all eight counties in the First Tennessee Development District get involved in this program,” Ryans said last week. “We hope when other counties see the data, they will want to get involved.”

These evaluations will be based on the answers kindergarten teachers give to questions on how their students perform in five areas:

• Physical health and well being.

• Social competence.

• Emotional maturity.

• Language and cognitive skills.

• Communication skills and general knowledge.

“These are pretty basic questions,” Ryans said. “Some communities use these evaluations every three years. They have become very important tools.”

She noted that a Nobel Prize economist has identified programs to improve the educational outcomes of children before the age of 5 show “a 13 percent rate of return” on a student’s future academic success.

The information from teachers during the EDI will be analyzed by UCLA officials, and used to provide local school and government officials with in-depth maps of how students are doing in different areas of the county. This information will also be shared with parents and residents of each community surveyed.

Communities across the United State, most notably San Antonio, Texas, have used the EDI to identify problem areas and develop strategies for addressing those deficiencies. Through EDI, Ryans said Washington, D.C., discovered its myriad of pre-K programs were lacking in some areas.

“They will show pockets of of greatness where you wouldn’t expect it, and areas where you might think students would be thriving, but are not,” she said.

Ryans also believes sharing the EDI information with potential employers on the county’s economic websites will send a “strong message” to businesses looking to locate to this region.

“It speaks volumes to our commitment to early education and workforce development,” she said.

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