Local educators are hoping to launch a program soon to help them better determine a child’s readiness for kindergarten.

Paul Kulpinski, the partnership director of LAUNCH, said the organization is hoping to sign up several schools for the Arizona Department of Education’s Kindergarten Developmental Inventory pilot program.

The hope is that LAUNCH and the state will be able to use the data collected by the program to identify key points in a child’s development that lead to success later in school and in life. And then use that information to improve early childhood education through partnerships with preschools and parents. The idea is to get students ready to learn at the appropriate level before they enter kindergarten and identify students who may need extra help early.

Students who don’t have the educational support they need when they are young have a much harder time in school later in life, Kulpinski said.

Lauren Zbyszinski, the director of Professional Learning and Sustainability at the Arizona Department of Education, told LAUNCH partners at an Oct. 17 meeting that the state created the pilot program because it missed out on the 2009 federal Race to the Top grant that it applied for because the state didn’t have a kindergarten readiness assessment tool.

Race to the Top was a $4.35 billion federal grant program that rated state education programs based on the effectiveness of teachers and principals, curriculum, programs to turn around low performing schools, data systems and the expansion of high quality charter schools.

Kulpinski said the KDI program is a tool created by the company Teaching Strategies that teachers can use to assess current kindergarten through third grade students’ growth. It’s an extension of the Teaching Strategies Gold tool that many local preschools use.

Zbyszinski said on Oct. 17 that ADE has already tested the KDI program with 44 teachers in Pima, Mohave and Maricopa counties and is looking to expand the pilot program.

Kulpinski said both the Gold tool and the Kindergarten Development Inventory ask teachers to observe students in their day-to-day work and assess the students on their growth in several areas. Those areas include a student’s emotional growth, physical growth, language, cognitive skills, literacy, math, science and technology, social studies, the arts and their understanding of English.

There is no one set of data that experts can point to on the early childhood learning experience, Kulpinski said.

This data can be used as a lens to view the student experience and to help create a conversation in the community on how to support students and families, he said. It can also be used by preschool providers.

According to Teaching Strategies website, the tool is supposed to be easy for teachers to integrate into their lessons and nearly invisible to students. The tool is supposed to identify gaps in a student’s growth so that the teacher can address them. It includes lesson planning and development tools for teachers, a menu of reports that a school or district can generate from the data and activities a teacher can send home with the student.

Kulpinski said he’s already heard from several local schools, including Flagstaff Unified School District, the Montessori schools in Flagstaff and Mountain School, that are interested in the pilot program.

According to Zybszinski’s comments to LAUNCH, the program costs about $13 per year per student. The state will pay for a subscription to the program for each pilot school for the first 18 months. It will also pay for substitute teachers to hold down the fort while regular teachers are in training for the program.

In order to apply for the pilot program, a school has to create a team that must include a district-level administrator, a site-based administrator, a key decision maker on curriculum, at least one K-3 general education teacher, at least one K-3 special education teacher and a literacy plan member. It also has to fill out an application detailing how the program will help the school or district. Schools and districts also have to commit to providing feedback to the state on how well the program works. Applications to the program have to be in by Nov. 16.

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.