Getting on Track Early for School Success (GoT): An Assessment System to Support Effective Instruction

This project focuses on developing to an objective, valid, and instructionally relevant assessments of 3—5 year old English monolingual and Spanish-English Dual Language Learner students’ oral language, literacy, and math skills. Recent research demonstrates that focusing on early oral language development positively influences children’s later proficiency in reading comprehension, writing, and numerical reasoning and that math-related interactions between parents, teachers and children can substantially enhance the development of children’s mathematical thinking. Yet, evaluations of preschool instruction find that these critical oral language and math skills are not sufficiently emphasized in preschool classrooms. Getting on Track (GoT) seeks to change this state of affairs by clarifying instructional goals for early language, mathematics, and academic development in preschool settings, by providing teachers with frequent, objective, accurate and valid assessments of children’s skills in these domains, and thereby enabling teachers and researchers to develop powerful instructional strategies to foster these skills.

Prior Work

The initial development of the GoT assessments, with funding from the Foundation for Child Development (FCD), the Kellogg Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, was a partnership among NORC and various University of Chicago-based researchers and practitioners at the Committee on Education (COE), Urban Education Institute (UEI), Department of Psychology, and Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE).

The team developed statistically reliable pre-K oral language, literacy, and mathematics assessments that integrate research and practice and provide information to preschool teachers that is highly relevant to individual, small group, and whole class instruction. These assessments are designed to serve as the core of a coherent system of instruction we are developing that begins in pre-K and reliably enables children of all social, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds to attain high levels of academic achievement by grade 3. The team has built a system that enables teachers to monitor each child’s progress on numerical and spatial reasoning skills (math) and on oral language and literacy skills that constitute the foundation for success in later learning in elementary school and beyond. Using this system, teachers formulate differentiated instructional plans, evaluate the impact of those plans, and revise accordingly.

In the process of developing our assessments, we:

  • Rigorously reviewed research to identify the domains of early language and mathematics development that are most critical for future academic success
  • Surveyed existing literacy and mathematics assessments for young children
  • Developed and piloted instructionally relevant assessments for English-speaking children between the ages of 3 and 5 based on cutting-edge research and practical usability in the classroom
  • Developed and piloted instructionally relevant literacy and mathematics assessments for young Spanish-speaking dual language learners (DLL) measuring the research-based skills assessed in our English language assessments
  • Ensured the assessments align with Illinois pre-K standards, including those for DLL children
  • Had experts in the fields of literacy, mathematics, and early child education review the field-test versions of the English language assessments and made revisions based on their feedback
  • Conducted two large-scale field tests of the English language literacy and mathematics assessments (400 3—5 year olds for each; approximately 300 items in each), yielding exceptional datasets of highly reliable measures of children’s emergent oral language, print-related, and mathematics skills
  • Applied Classical Item and Item Response Theory (IRT) analyses to field test data to identify final items to include in the assessment system

Current Work

ORC continues to collaborate with UChicago researchers and practitioners at the Committee on Education (COE), Department of Psychology, Science of Learning Center, and UChicago STEM Education with support from the Heising-Simons Foundation. We are building structures to help scale the system through the development of a train-the-trainer model of professional development and ongoing coaching supports. The project team is also currently completing a randomized control trial of the GoT math assessment system to test impact on teacher and student outcomes.

Project Team

Alana Dulaney, Statistician, University of Chicago
Susan Goldin-Meadow, PhD, Professor of Comparative Human Development and Psychology, University of Chicago Marc Hernandez, PhD, Principal Research Scientist, Early Childhood Research and Practice Collaborative, NORC at the University of Chicago
Debbie Leslie, MAT, Associate Director for Direct Services, UChicago STEM Education, University of Chicago
Susan C. Levine, PhD, Professor of Comparative Human Development and Psychology, University of Chicago
Stephen Raudenbush, EdD, Project PI, Professor of Sociology and Chair, Committee on Education, University of Chicago
Janet Sorkin, PhD, Senior Assessment Development Associate for Mathematics, Committee on Education, University of Chicago
Liesje Spaepen, PhD, Curriculum Developer, UChicago STEM Education, University of Chicago

Prior Contributors

Jennifer Adams, PhD, Research Scientist, NORC at the University of Chicago
Ozlem Ece Demir, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Iowa
Linda Espinosa, PhD, Professor of Early Childhood Education (Ret.) at the University of Missouri, Columbia
Cassie Freeman, PhD, Director, Analysis and Implementation at The College Board
Elizabeth Gunderson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Temple University
Raedy Ping, PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher, Northwestern University
Michael Reynolds, PhD, Senior Vice President and Director of the Academic Research Centers, NORC at the University of Chicago
Terese Schwartzman, PhD, Research Scientist, Academic Research Centers, NORC at the University of Chicago
Molly Branson Thayer, EdD, Director, School Age and Youth Development Programs at University of Washington College of Education
Margaret Walsh, MAT,co-CEO and the Director of STEP™ Literacy at UChicago Impact, Urban Education Institute, University of Chicago
Christopher Young, PhD, Psychometrician, University of Chicago Consortium on School Research
Michele Zimowski, PhD, Senior Survey Methodologist, Statistics and Methodology, NORC at the University of Chicago