Choosing where to start can be as difficult a task as any, since so many areas need improvement. Optimal conditions include access to the necessary data needed to analyze what is happening in the given space, community will to change practices around a particular outcome, and strong leadership in that space.
The partnership first selected Early Childhood as a priority outcome area, and work began in 2013 to form the Early Childhood Success Action Team. Next, the partnership focused on early grade reading and mathematics, creating the 3rd and 4th Grade Success Action Team. In Spring of 2014, the College and Career Action Team was launched. Two other action teams were launched in 2013, but due to unfavorable conditions, were put on hold.
Selecting priority areas for work doesn’t mean that these areas are more important than others—it simply reflects the current capacity of the partnership. As the partnership grows, more priority areas will be added and new action teams will form.
Early childhood settings are critical to building a foundation for learning that all students need to begin a successful journey through the education pipeline. There is growing recognition that the skills children develop early in life facilitate learning at later stages in development, and that skills missed early on may be difficult to compensate for at a later time(1). National research suggests that the achievement gap is visible even at the kindergarten level, with students from disadvantaged backgrounds performing below more advantaged peers in early reading and mathematics skills, oral language development, vocabulary, and general knowledge(2). Simply put, the work of ensuring an equitable educational foundation for all students begins in early childhood.
There are nearly 100 early childhood providers serving infants, toddlers, and pre-kindergarten children within the city limits. Data on the various early learning settings in Albany is limited and often incompatible with other sources. More specifically, it is not clear which curricula, practices, guidelines, and assessments
are being used across the settings, if any. Further exacerbating the problem is the wide variation in professional credentials and training across early learning settings.
The Early Childhood Action Team embraced the complexity of the early childhood space and together established a Kindergarten Success Formula—a clear message that the success of all kindergarteners does not lie with any one person or institution, but rather with all partners working together.
The Albany Promise and its members are committed to working together to ensure the success of all incoming kindergarteners, with the knowledge that: all children are capable of learning; all children develop at different rates; and success necessitates collaboration between families, communities, and schools to ensure the success of every child.
Kindergarten Success Formula
Families + Community + Programs = Children Ready for Success in Kindergarten.
Families: Families provide loving, stable, and healthy environments for children; engage in positive play and learning experiences with children; recognize their role as the child’s first teacher and advocate.
Programs: Programs engage the child where they are developmentally; meet high-quality care, educational, and developmental benchmarks; meet the diverse learning needs of all children; focus on both social-emotional and academic development; focus on progress in a child’s learning; and partner with families to help each child reach her/his potential.
Community: The community provides access to high-quality early learning opportunities; provides accessible healthcare for all children; and provides a vast array of learning experiences in the community for children that build critical learning skills.
Through a survey administered to early childhood providers in 2013, the need for clarification of what was expected of providers arose. To improve understanding within the provider community, a series of professional development workshops was launched, giving all early learning programs free access to high-quality training in both the New York State Pre-Kindergarten Foundation for the Common Core (for Pre-K provider use) and the New York State Early Learning Guidelines (for infant and toddler provider use). 55 providers from 22 programs across the city attended the sessions, which included make-and-take activities to empower providers to change their practices in their classroom settings. The Capital District Child Care Council provided both certified trainers and training hours to encourage participation. The City School District of Albany’s Early Childhood Coordinator co-facilitated the trainings and discussed just how important it is to have students entering elementary school ready for kindergarten.
A big hurdle in taking on the goal of ensuring that every child is ready for kindergarten was the lack of available data to show how students were performing in the key skill areas that lead to readiness. In Fall 2014, the entire kindergarten class was assessed with a literacy-based tool developed by the District. This first-ever universal collection will allow us to track the progress of incoming cohorts each year as well as provide key information as to which skill areas need the most development.
Through the delivery of professional development, providers learned about the importance of using a research-based curriculum to support the learning standards for early childhood. While some providers are required to use a curriculum due to their funding streams, others do not, creating an uneven distribution of quality in programs for children. Furthermore, assessment of children’s skills varies across programs, creating an uneven view of how children are progressing across programs. Through support from the United Way, the partnership has been able to bring a research-based curriculum and assessment tool to providers who previously didn’t have access.