PEORIA — There is a thread that connects all the school districts in the state when it comes to early education, according to the just-released results of the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey prepared by the Illinois State Board of Education:
Everyone can do better.
"Data from the second year of KIDS implementation affirms the importance of comprehensive, high-quality supports for early learners," said state Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala in prepared remarks. "Systemic inequities in resources and opportunities can negatively impact the development of young children. We look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers to increase the state's investments in early childhood education and close gaps in development as early as possible."
Those gaps emerge in even a quick study of the report. For instance, in Dunlap School District 323, 51% of students ages 5 and 6 demonstrated "readiness" in all three of the study's areas of development — social and emotional, language and literacy and math. That number was 19% in East Peoria District 86 and 16% in Peoria Public Schools. Conversely, 20% of the students in Dunlap demonstrated readiness in none of the three categories, while 63% in East Peoria and 57% in Peoria failed to hit markers for readiness in all three categories.
Peoria Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat sees the gap more as a necessary challenge than a reason to surrender to the circumstances.
"Our students in Peoria Public Schools come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences," Kherat said in a prepared statement. "We believe that all children can learn with the right resources and supports, and it's our job to take every student entering our district where they are and give them the tools they need to have successful lives."
The survey measures readiness based on observations made by kindergarten teachers in their classrooms. The 14 readiness measures include curiosity and initiative in learning, relationships and social interactions with peers, letter and word knowledge and number senses and math operations. Educators are encouraged to collect more than the 14 required measures and to administer KIDS multiple times a year.
"KIDS can provide families with a general sense of their child's strengths and areas in which they may need additional support," according to the state board. "A child not demonstrating readiness at the same time as his or her peers in a single measure or developmental area is not necessarily a cause for concern. Providing appropriate supports allows children the opportunity to get back on track, something easier to accomplish in the earlier year."
Data was collected in the 2018-2019 school year. It showed 26% demonstrated readiness in all three developmental areas statewide; 17% in two of the three areas; 18% in one area; and 39% in no developmental area.
The survey's initial findings drew criticism from educators after they were released last summer. The methods used to quantify "readiness" would naturally lack uniformity, some said, and as a result be of dubious value.
"How do we know that from one building to the next, from one classroom to the next, that the teacher is doing those rankings all the same?" Beth Crider, the regional superintendent for Peoria County, asked last summer.
Desmoulin-Kherat warned not to put too much value on the one set of information.
"The KIDS results are one data point among many that we use to evaluate students at the primary school level. These data points have guided us in being proactive and intentional in placing an emphasis on early childhood education," she said. "Most of all, it's important to note that the children surveyed in the KIDS data are 5 and 6 years old. They have many years of learning, breakthroughs and achievements to come — this is only the beginning of the journey for them. Peoria Public Schools will continue to work with every child, whether they're deemed proficient or not, to individualize their education and help them grow into productive and prosperous adults."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at email@example.com. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.