By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
BARRY, Ill. -- Dylan Ross reads aloud in Lisha Fee's kindergarten class.
Clyde Dunker nibbles a few Lucky Charms as he sorts the marshmallows. Brianna Wombles and Tyrone Sessions work on sight words at the pocket charts.
While the students and their classmates work at centers, Fee jots down a note or two on her observations tied to the new Kindergarten Individual Development Survey program being piloted in the Western School District.
"It's the same things we were watching for in the past, but a lot more social skills," Fee said of KIDS. "By providing us with a tool and seeing things we should be doing at each level ... it helps us know if there's any gaps in the children's learning."
Even simple exchanges between students can provide indicators of how ready they are to learn and how much they have learned.
Fee and fellow kindergarten teacher Amy Strubinger are wrapping up the second of three KIDS assessments for this school year, recording data measuring skills in language and literacy, self-regulation and other areas to shape what they do in the classroom. If a student is at the explorer, or beginner, level of a skill, the teachers make sure to provide them opportunities to move up to the developing, building, integrating and applying levels.
"One of the most exciting things is, it really helps them to be able to drive their instruction and meet the needs of all of their students in kindergarten," Western Elementary Principal Michaela Fray said. "It's going to be a really valuable tool."
KIDS aims to measure kindergartners' skills and knowledge, informing educators about the learning and developmental needs of students in preschool through the early grades, and generating more effective classroom instruction.
Sixty-four districts are piloting the program expected to be implemented statewide in 2015-16. Western is the only area district involved in the pilot project, launched with an intense training session last summer in Chicago.
Overwhelmed at first, the Western teachers say they're getting more comfortable collecting the data and recording it on iPads provided by KIDS.
"It's new to us. We're learning, also," Fee said.
The program's not a test or a one-time snapshot of a student's readiness at one point in time. The process involves observing kindergarten students over time, within the context of typical activities such as English language development, self and social development, self-regulation, language and literacy development and mathematical development.
"It has the students kind of identify themselves in relationship with others," Strubinger said. "Toward the beginning of kindergarten, you might notice them saying I've got blue eyes. Later on the in the year, they might be saying Jimmy has blue eyes like I have blue eyes and make comparisons with themselves to others. They're becoming more aware of their environment."
The KIDS assessments help identify gaps in school readiness.
"We've been sharing with our pre-K teachers, and we're looking forward to sharing the observations with the first-grade teachers so it can be a seamless transition into first grade," Fray said. "The first-grade teachers will be able to immediately utilize the data the kindergarten teachers have."
The students take their teachers' extra note-taking in stride.
"Sometimes the students ask, and I say, ‘I'm writing down good things you're doing so I can remember and tell your parents,' " Strubinger said. "We're taking pictures occasionally. We can document with pictures or video."
Collecting data is key to shaping instruction, Fray said, and she expects students to be increasingly involved.
"It's still brand-new to us, but I think we can start sharing the framework with the kids," she said. "Kindergartners are very well-aware of looking at data, setting goals. We're making it kid-friendly."