The Bluegrass State Toddles Toward a Cohesive Birth-3rd Grade Policy Framework

A few weeks ago the Early & Elementary Education Policy team at New America released From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth-3rd Grade Policies That Support Strong Readers, a report evaluating states on 65 policy indicators in seven policy areas that promote children’s reading on grade level by the end of third grade. We assessed state policies in the following areas:

  • Educators: teachers and leaders;
  • Standards, assessments, and data systems;
  • Equitable funding;
  • High-quality pre-K;
  • Full-Day Kindergarten;
  • Dual language learners supports;
  • And when they exist, third grade reading laws that focus on identification and intervention instead of retention

We grouped states into three categories– walking, toddling, and crawling–based on how well their policies support a comprehensive approach to promoting early literacy. Only five states made it into the walking category: New York, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Wisconsin. While these states don’t have it all figured it, they are leading the way in multiple areas. The majority of states were toddling, meaning they are meeting some indicators but clearly lacking in others. In the report we identified 12 states as crawling: Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, North Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Montana. These states have the most work to do toward making sure children are able to read well by third grade.

Based on information we recently received from officials at the Kentucky Department of Education, we awarded Kentucky points for two indicators. As a result, the state has moved up into the toddling group. Kentucky now ranks 40th out of 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The first indicator covered whether the state provides recommendations to districts and schools on reading and math assessment in kindergarten through second grade. The federal government doesn’t require annual testing to begin until third grade, and as a result many of the early grades are often overlooked. While assessments in early grades can provide very valuable information to educators, it can be difficult to determine the most appropriate assessments for young children. While we did not evaluate states on what approach they take to K-2 assessments, we did allot points to states for, at the very least, providing guidance and making recommendations around reading and math assessments and encouraging districts to consider the development of young children in other learning domains. As we explain in the report, “Strong comprehensive assessment systems in the early years and grades can help ensure that children do not fall through the cracks and end up struggling in third grade.”

Beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, Kentucky schools were required to use developmentally appropriate diagnostic assessments to measure reading and math readiness under state law. In August 2015, the state posted guidance for districts on selecting and using diagnostic assessments in the primary grades, which Kentucky defines as the years from when a child begins school to when they start fourth grade. This new guidance satisfies our indicator.

The second indicator that Kentucky gained points for was in regards to the state’s third grade reading law. Among other interventions, we awarded points to states requiring parental notification of student progress. We referred to Education Commission of the States’ (ECS) 2014 brief on third grade reading policies for these data. ECS does not identify Kentucky as requiring parental notification, but according to the state’s law around the use of Response to Intervention in kindergarten through third grade (more on RTI here), each local district must create a system that includes “individual student reports shared with the parents of each student in Kindergarten through Grade 3 that summarize the student’s skills in mathematics, reading, and writing; the student’s behavior; and any intervention plans and services being delivered.”

Kentucky is making slightly more progress than we originally thought, but there are still numerous steps the Bluegrass State can take to better support early learning, specifically third grade literacy. To learn more about how Kentucky performs on all of our indicators, use our interactive Atlas tool.

Data collection for this report began in early 2015. For most of the policy indicators, our team compiled existing data from a variety of sources and reports by other organizations, using the most recent data available at the time. For a small number of indicators we scanned state websites or contacted state department of education officials. A comprehensive list of indicators and citations can be found here.

We expect (even hope!) that state rankings will change over time as states implement more policies that support early learners. We were happy to work with Kentucky officials to update their state profile. If there are recent updates that we should reflect on Atlas, please let us know.

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

Abbie Lieberman

Abbie Lieberman is a policy analyst on the Early & Elementary Education Policy team at New America, where she provides research and analysis on policies that impact children from birth through third grade.