Policy Brief/Analysis

The “Why” Behind Kindergarten Entry Assessments


The 2011 Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant was instrumental in introducing to states the concept of systematically collecting and using data from formative assessments of children at kindergarten entry. By the 2018-2019 school year, 35 states (D.C is included as a “state”) required public schools to assess children’s learning and development within a few months of kindergarten entry, and two additional states had an optional kindergarten entry assessment (KEA) in place. The fact that so many states are implementing a KEA begs the question, “What exactly is a KEA?”. We can define KEAs by looking at the composition of the assessments, but this approach leaves out one critical component: the intended purposes of KEAs.

Successful assessment systems have a clearly defined purpose to obtain information about children, teachers and/or programs and to then examine that information at a specifically defined level (child, classroom, site, district, state, etc.). States then determine the extent to which resulting data are used to make high-stakes decisions about children, teachers, and/or programs, but the appropriateness of using assessment data to drive specific decisions depends on the technical properties of the assessment. Absent clarity of purpose, along with careful instrument selection and strong implementation, assessments may produce results that lack validity.

States demonstrate several different intended purposes for their KEAs. After reviewing state legislation, guidance and websites, three overall patterns emerge (see Table 1). Many states focus on the KEA as a tool to support teachers’ understanding of the skills children bring to the classroom at the start of the kindergarten year. Resulting KEA data may be expected to provide teachers with a general picture of their classroom, or with actionable information to develop individualized educational plans for each child. There is also evidence of states using KEA data to keep families informed about and engaged in their children’s progress at school. Finally, states are using KEA data to inform state-level decisions. The data may be used to test the strengths and weaknesses of the programs children attended prior to entering kindergarten, to identify trends in kindergarten readiness over time, or as a means of predicting later school success. This brief explores evidence of the specific ways states are currently using KEA data in an attempt to bring greater clarity to the “why” of conducting these assessments.

View the Full Policy Brief

Use of Kindergarten Entry Assessment Data by State

The Authors

Karin Garver is an Early Childhood Education Policy Specialist at NIEER. Her research interests are in national and state early education policy trends, inclusive opportunities for preschool children with disabilities, data systems, systems integration, and public program finance.