Filed Under:  Education, National, News

New education tool measures vulnerabilities in early child development

11th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

Many lobbying groups dot America’s modern education landscape offering data, advice and plans to cure the country’s education ailments. Many of these organizations aim foremost for accountability, which they place heavily on teachers and administration. The group Orleans Public Education Network (OPEN) purports to attack the city’s education problems in co-operation with New Orleans’ various communities, in order to more specifically address each community’s needs.

On Wednesday February 6, New Orleans education representatives gathered with OPEN and its financial backers at Mahalia Jackson Elementary, to share the results of OPEN’s two years applying the Early Development Instrument (EDI) test to kindergartners in local schools. Citing research showing a strong link between kindergarten-age school readiness and fourth grade functionality, OPEN executive director Dierdre Johnson Burel called the EDI, “the most critical investment in closing the achievement gap.”

EDI is essentially a 104-point, 15-minute questionnaire that measures five core areas of early child development purported to predict adult health, education and social outcomes: 1) Physical health and well-being, 2) Social competence, 3) Emotional maturity, 4) Language and cognitive skills, 5) Communication skills and general knowledge. The EDI is, however, a population-level research tool measuring developmental trends in populations, not individual children. EDI works under the assumption that educational problems don’t occur just in a single child, or even a single family, but within communities. Though data driven, the EDI model measures each child individually, then combines all the children’s data to evaluate that community’s educational needs.The EDI results hopefully go on to inform school strategies and policies aimed at optimizing child development in specific communities.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, 1,844 New Orleans kindergartners from 38 schools took the EDI via OPEN. Inclusion into the official data depended on a neighborhood’s having 10 or more kids take the EDI. Only 14 New Orleans neighborhoods reached the “saturation point” wherein 70 percent of those communities’ students took the EDI. Students were rated on a scale of “developmentally vulnerable” to “very ready” for school. The EDI data released depicts both the vulnerability and the readiness of kindergartners in the five aforementioned categories, in those 14 saturated, majority-black communities.

Per the EDI, lower vulnerability neighborhoods include Gert Town, McDonough, Desire and Whitney. Highly ready communities included Whitney, Bayou St John and McDonough. Vulnerability outpaced readiness in the Freret area and the Iberville Development. New Orleans communities scored highest overall in the “Cognitive Development” category.

Ms. Burel put focus on OPEN’s “host area,” Central City. In the “Physical Health and Well-being” category, 14 percent of Central City kindergartners showed to be developmentally vulnerable, while 24 percent were very ready. Ten-percent scored low in “Social Competence,” while 23 percent proved very ready. “Emotional Maturity”: 12 percent vulnerable, 33 percent very ready. “Language and Cognitive Development”: 13 percent, 39 percent; and “Communi-cations Skills and General Knowledge”: 4 percent, 33 percent.

Burel was optimistic with Central City’s results. “For the most part our investments are making an impact,” she said, “and we are pulling many children out of the deepest levels of vulnerability, with one in three Central City students very ready to enter school.”

After the data was released, the project’s funders and other partners gave brief, hopeful responses, including Huilan Krenn of the Kellogg Foundation, Greater New Orleans Foundation’s Flint Mitchell, Neighborhood Partnership Network executive director Timolynn Sams, Sandra Reed community coordinator for Ready, Set, Go! and OPSB’s Sarah Usdin.

Mahalia Jackson Elementary Principal Lakeysha London said that with the new teacher evaluation system and Common Core standards, she was hesitant to also apply the EDI, but she admitted her teachers had already found the test’s results useful. Nancy Freeman of the Institute of Mental Hygiene acknowledged that gathering data is one thing, putting it to use is another: “We still have a long way to go,” Freeman said.

This article was originally published in the February 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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