Educators use standards, assessment, and data to help guide and drive instruction in the classroom over the course of the school year. State departments of education require a set of learning standards or guidelines to provide a framework for instruction. And in some states, they provide guidance for statewide assessment and data collection.  

New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy team recently released From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth- 3rd Grade Policies that Support Strong Readers, a report ranking states on 65 policy indicators in seven policy areas that promote children’s ability to read on grade level by the end of third grade. We grouped states into three categories– crawling, toddling, or walking –based on their progress in accordance with our indicators.

Standards, assessment, and data are essential components to ensuring that all students have access to and mastery of grade level skills. The better coordinated and connected these three components (along with curriculum) are the more seamlessly children can move from classroom to classroom and the easier it is for teachers to build upon their academic and developmental skills. The different methods that teachers use to help students accomplish mastery is often determined through a school or school district’s chosen curriculum. (We were unable to evaluate curriculum in our state scan.) The figure below shows the policy indicators that we reviewed for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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Standards assist educators in scaffolding and sequencing children’s learning and development through the grades. Every state has early learning guidelines or standards, for children prior to kindergarten entry, that cover multiple domains of learning, including language and literacy; cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills; and different approaches to learning (persistence, problem-solving) to develop the whole child. When many states across the country adopted Common Core, they updated their early learning guidelines and standards to better prepare children for kindergarten under the new standards.  

Assessment and screenings that are developmentally-appropriate and embedded into the curriculum are essential in the early grades. Not to push down skills that should be left for later grades, but to determine if early intervention is needed to assist a child in mastering skills within the appropriate range of development for a particular age group. For instance, many states focus on third grade assessment because of the research showing that children below grade level in reading are at a higher risk for high school dropout. However, the gaps in students’ essential skills typically begin well before the third grade. Ongoing, observational, formative assessment is needed to intervene when necessary so that a child is set up for later success. States that have created a plan for pre-K and K-2 assessment (which we will discuss in a later blog post) are setting districts and children up for success by identifying the gaps in their knowledge and skills early on in their development and providing appropriate early interventions. We think it makes sense for districts to use the same assessment to make it easier to identify discrepancies from one district to the next.

Data systems are important to providing educators information about children’s development and mastery of skills. Every state has a longitudinal K-12 data system and most have early childhood data systems, but often these systems do not communicate with one another. Information on a student’s current skills is important for educators to further develop new skills and build upon prior knowledge. States that have comprehensive data systems are not only able to seamlessly develop skills for individual students, but are also able to spot trends and areas of improvement for teaching and learning on a larger scale.

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In our scan, most states were categorized as crawling in this policy area, which means that there is plenty of room for growth nationwide. The highest ranking states in standards, assessments, and data for birth-3rd grades were Ohio, Delaware, and Washington state (which is displayed in the map above.)

With the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states will have increased flexibility when it comes to, standards, assessment, data, and accountability systems. It will be important for states to create systems that align from birth through 12th grade in order to help students develop much-needed academic skills as well as skills for success.

[Cross-posted at Ed Central]

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Shayna Cook is a Program Associate with New America’s Early & Elementary Education Policy team where she researches and reports on a wide array of policy issues, concerning birth through third grade. She graduated from American University with a master’s degree in education, focusing on policy and leadership. She holds a bachelor’s degree in classics from Howard University.