Zaylie Botello, a preschooler at Early Childhood Education’s (ECE) North Visalia Center, excitedly announced that she wants to read books in kindergarten. Teacher assistant Ninfa Guerrero asked students at her table to illustrate something for their book project that they want to do when they reach kindergarten next year. Zaylie began to draw tiny books she imagines that she will read in kindergarten. “This is a letter book, and this one is a book about animals,” she said, pointing to her illustrations.
Teacher Cassandra Greer explained that students work on school readiness goals as part of the federal Head Start program’s directive to prepare students for success in kindergarten. The weekly goal that students were working on at the Visalia center was called “growing and changing” and it is designed to help children see how they continue to develop new abilities.
To ensure students in both home-based and center-based settings are meeting these goals, Early Childhood Education has recently developed a data analysis team, led by Jordan Davis. Using the California Department of Education assessment tool known as the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP), teachers and home educators assess children three times during the year – the initial assessment occurring within the first 30 days of school. DRDP contains 42 measures ranging from a child’s sense of self and memory knowledge to math operations and letter/word knowledge.
“What used to take months of analysis by an outside agency now is done quickly,” said Visalia Supervisor Margie Chavez. “This enables staff to determine where each child is developmentally and then to adjust instruction to meet their needs.”
ECE programs also use the Brigance assessment tool, which is widely used in special education. “In the event that one of our students requires special services, special education teachers appreciate that we use this tool and provide so much documentation,” added Chavez.
Chavez also reported that the center has reached out to neighboring Crowley Elementary for support. “I approached Principal Jesse Sanchez about visiting our center to observe our instruction,” she said. “He was so welcoming that he sent an entire team of teachers and support staff to observe our practices and to meet with our parents to talk to them about what their children can expect in kindergarten.”
Crowley teachers were delighted to see the center’s Focus Wall, which contains the School Readiness Goal and language and mathematics tools.
“Our goal is to increase the level of learning in both center-based and home-based programs,” said ECE Administrator Connie Smith. To complement the program’s new data analysis capabilities, Smith has instituted a professional development series entitled “Inspire Saturdays.” Modeling ECE trainings after the professional development offerings of Educational Resource Services, she noted that the staff has embraced the opportunity to increase their instructional skills. ECE is working toward meeting the federal Head Start standard requiring bachelor’s degrees for all teachers and associate’s degrees for all assistants. “The process of obtaining their degrees has certainly helped them grow and be better prepared to serve our children,” said Smith.
A consistent element of ECE’s success has been its Program Policy Council (PPC), which includes parent members. “We are cultivating leaders,” Smith said. “Through the PPC, our parents are contributing to the program in significant ways.”
Recently when ECE acquired iPads for every center, parents were the ones who researched and recommended the educational apps that the program later evaluated and purchased for the tablets. “They are learning leadership skills they can use as their children get older, as well as apply in their communities,” said Smith. “It’s also encouraging to see that fathers are equally engaged.”
In a recent report of DRDP results presented to the Tulare County Board of Education, students showed gains of 30% or more in six key developmental measures between the first and second tests taken a few months apart. “Early Childhood Education is a statewide model of instructional excellence,” said Tulare County Superintendent of Schools Jim Vidak. “Through data support, staff professional development and parent involvement, Tulare County children are well prepared to enter kindergarten.”