With years of teaching kindergarten, 1st grade, and 3rd grade under my belt, I’m often asked if kindergarten is the easiest to teach. My reply? "No!" Teaching kindergarten requires crafting a program that is equal parts academics and social/self-care skills. While later grades still need to address the social and self-care skills, more focus tends to be placed on the academics. Now that isn’t to say I don't need to stay on top of the academic piece. With individual states and the federal government focused on standardized testing, kindergarten is the new 1st grade, meaning there is more content that my young students need to learn.

Setting Benchmarks

Among the recent curriculum shifts is the move to start literacy instruction in kindergarten rather than 1st grade. The expectation is that each student will reach a certain level by the time they leave my class, but they are coming in with a wide range of skills and abilities. In order to help them all achieve the level of learning expected from today's kindergarteners, I need to have a clear picture of where each one is starting out from: that’s where assessment comes into play.

In the fall, around the fourth week of school, I begin with three formal assessments:

  • Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (DIAL)
  • Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS)
  • Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words

After administering the DIAL for articulation and expressive and receptive language, the DIBELS for initial sound fluency and letter naming fluency, and Fountas and Pinnell’s rhyming assessment, I follow up with several informal evaluations to round out my profile of each student:

  • Hearing and Recording Sounds in Words by Marie Clay
  • a writing sample
  • an alphabet identification inventory


Conditions for Screening

These assessments comprise part of my school's initial screening for students entering kindergarten. To prepare, I make sure that everyone is aware that it's assessment time. This helps us avoid schedule conflicts and attendance problems. A notice is sent home to parents informing them when the screening will take place. Colleagues are informed of the space being used through notes in their mailboxes and a sign goes up on the door on the days of the screening. The library, cafeteria or other quiet place is reserved to administer the assessments.

For the screening, it’s important to have materials on-hand. Being organized and prepared myself helps the students relax. I stock up on sharpened pencils, scrap paper, timers or stop watches and clip boards and make sure there is an accurate clock in the room. I also like to have paper and markers and books available for students who are in between assessments.

I keep Post-it notes on the files containing an individual student’s paperwork, allowing teachers to check off assessments as we each do our piece. It allows me to see at a glance what a student has been tested on.

During the screening, the occupational and physical therapists, speech teacher, early childhood coordinator, and curriculum coordinator help me to administer. I have a substitute teacher working with the aide in my classroom, allowing me to concentrate on the task at hand.


Focusing on Students' Individual Needs

Although I’m trying to balance timed assessments while calculating and recording results, it’s important for me to pay attention to cues that show students are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. I want to be able to pick up on the frown or puckered lip that foreshadows frustration. When I do, I’m not beyond responding with praise or humor. A tried and true response: “I’m noticing this question is hard for you. You’re doing great. We’re almost done.” A quick joke or a funny voice might do the trick, or even a pat on the shoulder.

When the screening is complete, the data is entered into a color-coded Excel spreadsheet. The team that administered the screening meets, along with the principal, and decides what interventions might be appropriate. Some of these include Lexia, Great Leaps and small group direct instruction. I also refer to Susan Hall’s I’ve DIBEL’d, Now What?, Phonemic Awareness in Young Children, Jo Fitzpatrick’s Phonemic Awareness: Playing with Sounds to Strengthen Beginning Reading Skills, and Pinnell and Fountas’ Phonics Lessons. These great books are packed with literacy ideas to address specific areas.

Letters are then sent home to parents, either informing them that their child passed the screening without any concerns or that a rescreening would be appropriate at a later date to look at an area of concern. Another letter is enclosed, including tips for games and activities that will address and help strengthen that skill. A rescreening date is then scheduled and the team is ready to hit the ground running.

I think one of the reasons my school is so successful at identifying the needs of students is that we take an organized approach to assessment. With portfolio assessment and work sampling supplementing the screening assessments, it would be difficult for a student to fall through the cracks. And with all the wonderful data gathered, I’m able to plan curriculum that is relevant, challenging and fun.