John Love began by noting that readiness is of interest to the public, taxpayers, politicians, and courts. He cited a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that the state must provide services to low-income children. By way of introduction, he said that program evaluation is composed of two factors, what programs can do for kids and what programs are doing.
In moving from the idea to the practical, we need to consider
- What is the ideal? (What is its definition, how is it measured? What are our assessment strategies? How do we interpret what we measure?)
- What are the practicalities?
- What limits our vision?
- Where do we go from here?
This consideration will help us create a process that involves the whole community.
What Are Appropriate Conditions of School Success?
Love asked what are the appropriate standards for success in school. Kindergarten teachers value children who are physically healthy, rested, and well nourished; children who are able to communicate their needs, wants, and thoughts verbally; and who are enthusiastic and curious in approaching new activities. Teachers don’t necessarily judge success by how high a child can count or how well he or she knows the alphabet.
Community Supports for Readiness
Love asked, "how do communities support readiness?" He touched on dimensions of readiness and on community attributes that support readiness, such as
- The presence of high-quality, developmentally appropriate preschool programs
- The presence of programs that help ensure that children receive nutrition and health care
- Programs to ensure that parents are children’s first teachers
- The presence of accessible training and support programs for parents that support readiness.
Love sees a value in efforts to look at such support programs and capture other circumstances (such as birthweight) that are not themselves measures of readiness, but can predict readiness.
Love asked, "how do we achieve readiness for all children?" He noted that there are so many differences in experiences and inequities before school and there are substantial differences in children’s needs. He asked that we seek reasonable and appropriate expectations for children’s learning. Drawing on an NAEYC position statement, he suggested a commitment to
- Addressing the inequities in early life experiences so that all children have access to the opportunities that promote school success
- Recognizing and supporting individual differences among children
- Establishing reasonable and appropriate expectations of children’s capabilities on school entry
Defining and Measuring Readiness
Love presented his ideas on defining and measuring readiness. Appropriate definitions of readiness take into account that
- Readiness is not a characteristic of the child
- Readiness describes a relationship
- Readiness includes levels of development and learning appropriate for success in school
Love said that there are degrees of readiness. He urged a broad definition of readiness extending beyond academics. Such a definition could include
- Physical well-being and motor development of children
- Children’s social and emotional development
- Children’s approaches to learning
- Children’s language development
- Children’s cognitive and general knowledge
Readiness might include child’s strategies to cope with a range of different circumstances.
Love called for measures that are appropriate for all cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups in the community; balance positive and negative indicators; and are adaptable to local circumstances. He urged that measures be flexible, expandable, and of types that can be implemented now.
Assessment Strategies and Interpreting Data
Love recommended employing multiple modes of assessment and multiple perspectives. Multiple modes might include direct assessments, judgmental ratings, and classroom observations (which he cautioned tend to be expensive). Multiple perspectives would include those of teachers, parents, children, and others.
In interpreting measures, Love suggested
- A focus on the collective or aggregate status of entering kindergartners
- The use of community-wide estimates
- The development of estimates of readiness for all the important subgroups within the community
- The application of findings to continuous community improvement efforts
He noted that many times it is too expensive to gather individual-level data but that survey sampling can allow a relatively small number of cases to reflect the diversity in the community. We need to think creatively. It is important: to think about why we are doing this. We should be able to address policy questions: Are the investments we are making paying off? Are they related to any changes in the readiness of children?
Love asked, "what are the practicalities?" As an answer, he said that we should look at community commitment
- Of parents’ and teachers’ time
- To coordination and supervision
- To quality control
- To data management
Love closed by sketching next steps.
- Determining the process for deciding the outcomes
- Selecting measures
- Deciding on assessment procedures
- Determine how to sample the children
- Decide on levels of aggregation for analysis
- Analyze and interpret the data
- Reporting to stakeholders and creating a feedback loop
Following Love’s talk, the meeting divided into two work groups—one focused on school readiness and the other on childcare. The school readiness group further divided into three subgroups.