Utah kids could get new statewide reading test before kindergarten

FILE - In this July 21, 2014 file photo, students at a summer reading academy at Buchanan elementary school work in the computer lab at the school in Oklahoma City. Wading into one of the most polarizing issues in education, President Barack Obama called Saturday for capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time, while conceding the government shares responsibility for having turned tests into the be-all-and-end-all of American schools. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki,File)
Students at a summer reading academy at Buchanan elementary school work in the computer lab at the school in Oklahoma City. Utah schools may start testing kids before they start kindergarten. (Associated Press)

Utah schools could start giving kids a new statewide test before they start kindergarten to measure their academic skills.

The Utah State Board of Education has approved a proposal to start using a commercially available reading test if state lawmakers agree to allocate the funding for it, the Deseret News reported.

It could also help show which kids could benefit from daylong kindergarten instruction, something the Utah Legislature is expected to consider expanding next year.

Utah schools already test kids to measure their academic skills before they start public school, but educators vary in their approach.

The new test would give statewide students a consistent assessment. If the full Legislature approves the funding, schools could start giving the test as soon as next year, Utah State Office of Education spokesman Mark Peterson told The Associated Press.

The board voted Friday in favor of using a reading test called DIBELS, which is already used at many Utah schools, unless state education officials find a better commercial option.

Board member Spencer Stokes said state education leaders should talk with teachers and school administrators to find out what’s working and what’s not as they make a final decision on what test would be best for Utah kids.

The contract is expected to cost about $1.6 million. A state education committee also considered the potentially less expensive option of developing an assessment in-house, but officials say buying one would save time and resources.

Ultimately, education authorities want to have a test that will give educators an idea of where students’ skills are at throughout the year.

“The primary purpose of (the test is) driving instruction and providing some meaningful information to determine what students need. A lot of these off-the-shelf products do that,” said Rich Nye with the Utah State Office of Education.

The vote comes as lawmakers weigh two bills that would expand full-day kindergarten.

One proposal would give schools more money to offer optional full-day kindergarten to kids whose test scores show they could use some extra time in the classroom. It would also be offered to kids who get free or reduced lunch, or are otherwise considered part of at-risk populations.

That would cost about $10 million in addition to the $7.5 million the state already spends on full-day kindergarten programs.

The other proposal would give schools a green light to offer more parents full-day kindergarten for a fee. That money would be used to pay teachers for the extra classroom time.

The Utah Legislature’s Education Interim Committee signed off on both bills in October.

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