All About Kindergarten Screening: What You As A Parent or Caretaker Should Know

Kindergarten screening is a way to gauge your child’s current functioning and growth. It is a brief evaluation or assessment of several developmental domains of functioning in young children that typically takes place prior to the beginning of kindergarten. Although there are myriad benefits to kindergarten screening such as providing accurate estimates of your child’s functioning, informing you and professionals of areas of strengths and challenges, and assisting in planning interventions if necessary, it is not routinely conducted in the United States perhaps because it is not required. As the benefits of kindergarten screening continue to emerge, however, school systems may be more open to begin or enhance their kindergarten screening procedures. As a parent or caretaker, here’s what you should know.

Why is kindergarten screening important?

Kindergarten screening is important as a prevention or early intervention tool to determine which young children are at risk for developmental, behavioral, or academic difficulties. Like a routine physical check-up with a pediatrician, a kindergarten screening is designed to pick up any “signals” of potential learning or behavioral difficulties before they increase in frequency, intensity, or duration. Children who are identified as at-risk can obtain assistance from their school and families in a timely and effective manner to avoid later and more intensive interventions with greater costs that could also increase anxiety for the child as well as among the school personnel and family members involved.

What areas of development are included in and who conducts kindergarten screening?

Typical areas of development that are assessed in kindergarten screening include communication or language skills, motor skills such as fine and gross motor, social skills involving adults and peers, adaptive behavior such as self-help skills and independent functioning, and pre-academic skills such as counting, naming colors, and answering general information questions. In addition, kindergarten screening should include vision and hearing, but may not if there isn’t a school nurse on staff.

Kindergarten screening may be conducted by a school-based professional such as a school psychologist or by a team of school-based professionals often including a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, teacher, and nurse. Some areas of development are assessed indirectly via rating scales (e.g., self-help skills at home) that are completed by school personnel or parents and other caretakers. Other areas of development are assessed directly via asking children questions or requiring them to do a task (e.g., drawing a person).  Kindergarten screenings should not take more than 30 minutes to administer per child and results can be obtained rather efficiently to provide feedback to school personnel and parents or other caretakers.

Kindergarten screening measures may be purchased commercially as pre-packaged tools where children are compared to a nationally standardized reference group or schools may create their own measures and develop local norms for their own use. Commercially packaged or locally developed kindergarten screening measures are valuable and useful in their own right, and the decision regarding which to use is made by the school or school district.

What is done with the results of kindergarten screening?

Results of kindergarten screening are important for everyone interacting with that child on a regular basis and should be provided soon after the screenings are completed. Individual and group results are important because there may be patterns of or delays in functioning among multiple children that can be addressed by the classroom teacher and parent or other caretakers at home. Effectively, results should be used to evaluate current functioning, monitor functioning over time, and develop interventions for all children to prevent further developmental difficulties.

What should I tell my child about kindergarten screening?

Perhaps it is more important to focus on what NOT to tell children about kindergarten screening! It is often not beneficial to tell children that they are having a test at school or that they have to do well on kindergarten screening. The more at ease the child and parent or other caretaker are about kindergarten screening, the more likely that the experience will be easier and more fun for everyone. It would be better to tell children that they will meet some friendly people in school who will ask them to draw, color, share what they like to do or want to be when they grow up, etc. Most questions are engaging, fun, and child-friendly. Nothing should be harmful in any way, shape, or form.

How should I prepare my child for kindergarten screening?

Perhaps there are different opinions on this question. In this writer’s opinion, there are no healthy reasons to prepare children for kindergarten screening. There is the risk of raising children’s anxiety by making a fun experience more negative and difficult. During the screening, parents and other caretakers need to be clear, calm, and supportive role models by working collaboratively with school personnel. This can be accomplished by having a good understanding of the process, requesting advice on how to talk with their child about the screening, accompanying their child to the screening, and having fun with their child after the screening has been completed.

If kindergarten screening is not conducted routinely in my school or school district, how can I request a screening for my child?

As more schools and their districts engage in kindergarten screening, parents and other caretakers may not need to request a screening. However, parents and caretakers should speak with their child’s principal or other school personnel about kindergarten screening to understand better the benefits of the process and their rights regarding potential services needed for their child. School psychologists are excellent advocates for children and can provide information to guide parents and other caretakers about kindergarten screening and what to expect in the school’s kindergarten classrooms.

In sum, the benefits of kindergarten screening are plenty and there are no drawbacks. All young children should receive kindergarten screening to ensure that they are developing typically and if there are some challenges, that these challenges are addressed sooner than later. School personnel are excellent sources of information and available to answer questions that parents or other caretakers may have about kindergarten screening or their child’s development. In addition, the resources below may provide further useful information.

Resources

https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Screening/Pages/default.aspx

The American Academy of Pediatrics website offers background information, screening tools, and FAQs for practitioners and informs the reader on how assessments can be implemented as regular practice.


https://www.ed.gov/early-learning/resources
and
https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/earlylearning/inclusion/resources-for-families.html

These websites provide early learning resources for parents which include videos, handouts, and links to websites.


http://families.naeyc.org/

This is a website for parents to learn about healthy ways to raise and interact with their children. There are articles outlining and encouraging constructive ways for child development. Parents are informed about the benefits of active play, positive friendships, and eating right, as well as helpful tips for keeping children asleep at night and fostering early learning.

About the Author

Vincent C. Alfonso, PhD, is professor and dean in the School of Education at Gonzaga University. His previous roles include Coordinator of the School Psychology Programs at Fordham University, former Executive Director of two University-based assessment centers, and former Acting Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Fordham. In November 2003 Dr. Alfonso received the Leadership in School Psychology Award from the New York Association of School Psychologists and more recently (2014) received the Trainers of School Psychology Outstanding Contribution to Training award. He was elected Fellow of Divisions 16, 5, and 43 of the American Psychological Association and served as president of Division 16 in 2013. Dr. Alfonso is a member of the American Psychological Association Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education and is a certified school psychologist and licensed psychologist who has been providing psychoeducational services to individuals across the life span for more than 25 years.