High quality pre-k programs include several key elements to foster young children’s development and supports for school readiness. This chapter explores each of those elements including developmentally appropriate curricula, required curriculum adoption process, supplemental curriculum, instruction, environmental design, and child assessment. High-quality preschool programs are grounded in standards-based practices. WVBE Policy 2520.15: Early Learning Standards Framework: Content Standards and Learning Criteria for West Virginia Pre-Kindergarten (WV Pre-K) define the content standards and learning criteria for WV Pre-K as required by WVBE Policies 2525, 2510, and 2419.
WVBE Policy 2520.15: Early Learning Standards Framework: Content Standards and Learning Criteria for West Virginia Pre-Kindergarten (WV Pre-K), or WV ELSF, are aligned with the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework and West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Kindergarten. The WV ELSF addresses all learning domains and reflects a developmental continuum that enhances successful transitions into kindergarten. The standards are designed to serve as early learning guidelines for all children ages three through five. The WV ELSF includes foundations of the Early Learning Standards, which frames the design of the standards and addresses an approach that promotes lifelong learning competencies. Along with the foundations, the WV ELSF includes seven content areas to support the whole child. The content areas are:
- Social and Emotional Development (SE);
- English Language Arts (ELA);
- Mathematics (M);
- Science (SC);
- The Arts (AR);
- Health and Physical Development (PH); and
- Approaches to Learning (AL).
To access WVBE Policy 2520.15: Early Learning Standards Framework: Content Standards and Learning Criteria for West Virginia Pre-Kindergarten (WV Pre-K) go to State Board Policies. Additional resources, including the Early Learning Standards Framework Guidebook, 3rd Edition, can be found on the West Virginia Teacher Resources for Educational Excellence (TREE). The WV TREE is a one-stop, grade specific site highlighting WV College- and Career-
Readiness Standards and resources that are essential to the classroom teacher. The resources include grade specific lessons, professional learning, and guidance documents crafted to help enhance teaching practice and guide the classroom teacher in the art of teaching. The links will connect teachers with web pages essential to the profession as well as relevant policies that are critical to specific grade and/or content levels. For more information access WV TREE.
A well-designed learning environment works not only as an extension of teachers, but also as a motivator of learning for children. The physical setting of the learning environment must be safe, comfortable, and engaging to children to maximize learning opportunities. Each classroom must have 35 square feet of usable classroom space per enrolled child. Additionally, there must be one flush toilet and one lavatory per fifteen children. To protect the safety of children, children must have adequate supervision at all times. There must be two adults present with each pre-k class at all times. Classrooms are limited to no more than twenty children.
All parts of the pre-k day are considered instructional times. Attention to the learning environment must include thoughtful planning of the classroom, playground, indoor gross motor areas, areas for meals, and other areas where children work and engage throughout the day. Elements of environmental design also include:
- The daily schedule;
- transitions throughout the day;
- interest areas/learning centers;
- classroom display;
- storage; and
- learning spaces
Each environmental element should be in place to convey a positive message, organized to support children’s independence, facilitate exploration and experiential learning, and illustrate current work of individuals and groups within classrooms. Materials must be rotated regularly to foster discovery, exploration, and child choice. The environment and materials should be intentionally labeled and organized in order to support language, literacy, numeracy, and social engagement. Adequate time should be provided for children to engage in the environment. Instructional time in WV Universal Pre-K classrooms is defined as the duration of time that pre-k children are present at school. This includes all required elements of the daily schedule.
Learning spaces includes square footage requirements for indoor and outdoor space, as well as maximum number of children in each classroom. These requirements are addressed in the health and safety section of WVBE Policy 2525. Classrooms must have 35 square feet of usable space per child. Usable space does not include areas that are only accessible to adults, such as teacher desks and cabinets. Additionally, classrooms are limited to no more than twenty children with no less than two adults. When children with IEPs are enrolled in the WV Pre-K classroom, maximum class enrollment and ratios may differ based on requirements noted in preschool special needs requirements section of WVBE Policy 2419.
Gross motor time and spaces are essential elements of a well-designed learning environment. Each WV Universal Pre-K classroom must provide sixty minutes of outdoor gross motor time daily. During times when inclement weather prevents outdoor gross motor, alternative plans should be in place to provide indoor gross motor opportunities. A combination of indoor and outdoor time may be utilized to accommodate weather conditions. The space in which children are engaged is as important as time spent in gross motor. Gross motor spaces should be viewed as an extension of the classroom.
This information addressing environmental design is general and only provides basic information. For further guidance on environmental design, review WVBE Policy 2525, Policy 2419, and county adopted curriculum framework resources.
Only comprehensive curricular systems that are included in the approved list shall be used in West Virginia Universal Pre-K classrooms. Therefore, each county collaborative early childhood team must complete the curricular framework adoption process. The approved list refers to the Instructional Materials Multiple List: Universal Pre-K. This listing includes information on each approved curricular framework to assist the county collaborative early childhood team in completing the adoption process.
The instructional materials adoption cycle includes an eighteen-month process for vendor submission and state committee review and selection. The Instructional Materials Multiple List: Pre-K is in place for a seven-year adoption timeline. Each vendor must make all submission materials available for the duration of the instructional materials adoption cycle. Any resource edition changes must be reviewed and approved with the next adoption cycle. Each county’s adopted curricular framework is reported annually in the ELRS: Pre-K with program data verification.
Family engagement in school plays a critical role in the success of each young child. To support family engagement, early childhood leaders, educators, and advocates must prioritize the development of strong home-school connections by emphasizing the critical role that families play. Further, WV Universal Pre-K programs must incorporate meaningful ways of not only communicating but also engaging families in the program. This begins with establishing a climate that includes:
- Opportunities for parents/guardians to participate in decision-making about their child’s education;
- A minimum of two documented face-to-face conferences annually with each child’s parent(s)/guardian(s). Home visits are recommended for these conferences;
- Documented methods of communicating with parents/guardians, including newsletters, child activity reports, phone calls, home visits, e-mail, and conferences;
- Services to children and their families to support the child in his/her transition into, participation in, and transition out of the program;
- Services for children who come from homes where languages other than English are spoken, support services including communication that is supportive of both the native language and English language development are provided;
- Support services in accordance with the needs specified in the child’s IEP for preschool children with disabilities;
- Classrooms that are open to parents/guardians; and
- Parents/guardians are encouraged to participate in classroom activities.
Family engagement activities are integral to supporting children and their families as they transition into and out of WV Universal Pre-K. The Ready, Set, Go! WV Comprehensive Framework for School Readiness illustrates additional practices to support family engagement; however, it is important to highlight ongoing family engagement and ensure that supports and encouragement are in place throughout the year.
Mealtimes are considered an instructional part of the pre-k day. To meet requirements of WVBE Policy 2525 and support children’s growth and learning during mealtimes times, the program must ensure that meals are served in an environment that:
- Encourage socialization and conversation;
- Foster self-help skills;
- Ensure adults, including staff, are seated with children when eating;
- Ensure no less than two adults in each class; and
- Encourage positive eating habits.
Positive meal environments support the development of a variety of skills, including social-emotional development, independence, healthy eating habits, trying new foods, motor skills, and language development with appropriate adult support. Meal environment guidelines are applicable to all settings, including those where meals served in classrooms, cafeterias, and even on special excursions and field trips. In order to effectively implement guidelines for program-wide meal environments, procedures should be established and shared with classroom administrators, staff, parents, and volunteers. Strategies for a variety of settings across classrooms should be explored with classroom staff to ensure optimal meal environments. This includes opportunities for teacher networking that includes discussion of mealtimes, various environments, and successful strategies to foster the development of all children.
Learning environments must be conducive to all children in the classroom, including those with varied backgrounds and abilities. Inclusive practices goes beyond supports for children with identified special education needs. Inclusive and diverse environments must incorporate information and materials that avoid stereotypes and provide accurate information. There are several key strategies that programs can employ to support inclusion and diversity in pre-k.
- Include provisions to assess environments for barriers in participation for enrolled children. This includes not only classrooms, but also playgrounds and any other areas where children are engaged;
- Include families to support inclusive and diverse environments;
- Provide training and resources for classroom staff that address:
- A shared meaning of diversity, as related to developmentally appropriate practices,
- Understanding how inclusive and diversity practices must be represented by the groups of children enrolled to support an understanding of self and others,
- Understanding that diversity is an approach rather than an event, holiday, or lesson plan,
- Supporting families with English as a second language, and
- Seeking Information and supports to ensure that accurate information about disabilities and cultural groups in their community is accessible;
- Supports on implementing a wide range of materials and activities;
- Supports for children to view themselves as a part of a larger community; and
- Environments and interactions that respond to individual children’s interests, strengths, and needs through the ongoing child assessment process.
Child guidance is not only the process of guiding children’s social behavior, but also supporting social and emotional development. Because young children have limited social experiences and self-regulation, it is imperative that adults ensure that child guidance is an integral part of the day, rather than an isolated event or activity. In order to embed positive child guidance throughout the day, the following key elements must be in place:
- Organized environments with opportunities for social experiences;
- Predictable and consistent routines and schedules;
- Clear and simple rules established in a positive manner;
- Attentive adults who are able to work proactively with children when social situations arise;
- Minimal transitions; and
- Developmentally appropriate expectations.
Even when positive guidance practices are embedded throughout the day, it is likely that behavior problems will arise. Each county collaborative early childhood team should establish child guidance procedures and supports to ensure that child guidance, behavior management, and discipline practices are constructive and educational in nature, and appropriate to each child’s age and circumstances, as addressed in the Child Guidance section of WVBE Policy 2525. The child guidance section also addresses unacceptable practices when handling behavior problems.
Providing staff development that focuses on positive child guidance and program procedures is essential to appropriate implementation. Without ongoing professional development and support, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents often do not have necessary tools to best support children who demonstrate challenging behaviors. Further, when children illustrate challenging behaviors that are pervasive, a team approach including varieties of early childhood professionals, specialists, and administrators will provide additional supports to teachers, and parents. National data currently illustrates high rates of suspensions and expulsions in pre-k, even though research associated with the data concludes that they are linked to negative long-term outcomes. A joint policy statement released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education on expulsion and suspension policies in early childhood settings provides a wealth of information on current research, resources, recommendations, and alternatives for suspension and expulsion. The position statement can be accessed at https://www2.ed.gov/policy.
Additional resources may be considered by county collaborative early childhood teams when developing child guidance procedures and supports. Many programs have adopted research-based frameworks for behavior interventions and supports that include processes for addressing child development, referral processes, interventions, and engaging a team approach. County collaborative early childhood teams must ensure that any resources included in child guidance procedures are developmentally appropriate and aligned with state policies and federal regulations.
The formative assessment process is defined as the deliberate process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides actionable feedback used to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended learning outcomes. The formative assessment process is utilized alongside daily classroom instruction and learning. Teachers observe students during learning, check for understanding, document student work, analyze the documentation, plan for instruction, instruct, reflect, provide frequent feedback, assess, adjust, and repeat the process.
The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP, 2010) Foundation Task Force on Early Learning (for children ages 3-8) recommendations focus on a comprehensive approach to the formative assessment process:
- Children should be assessed using age-appropriate methods on all domains of early learning and development;
- Children should be assessed in their native language and in their progress toward English proficiency;
- Assessments should be used to inform and improve classroom practice;
- Assessments should be based on a model that gauges how much progress an individual child is making;
- Teachers and leaders must have appropriate professional development and supports to administer and utilize assessments; and
- Assessment data should be shared with families to inform them of the child’s ongoing development.
WV Pre-K Child Assessment System incorporates various forms of pre-k children’s information based on data collected from:
- The Early Learning Scale,
- The WV Early Learning Standards Domains,
- Child Health information,
- English Language Learner data, and
- Special Education reporting data
The WV Pre-K Child Assessment System includes:
- Support on how to document progress for all developmental domains using best practices for early childhood assessment;
- Utilization of ongoing collection of evidence to assist with planning, instruction, and reflection; and
- Support for articulating children’s holistic development and progress to families
The Early Learning Reporting System is a reporting tool that includes the data reporting component of the Early Learning Scale. WV Universal Pre-K teachers utilize the ELRS to enter data based on children’s ongoing development across key domains for each of three yearly checkpoints. This system is to be completed utilizing information gathered through the ongoing formative assessment process, and the scoring is to be based upon the guidance provided in the ELS Guidebook. Three-year-old Head Start (non-collaborative) classrooms may utilize the system as well. Once registered, users must confirm their email address prior to the role approval process. Guidance documents for enrolling students may be found on the ELRS site under the HELP tab. Outcome data may be found by child, by teacher, by classroom, by location, by Head Start Program, and by district.
The Early Learning Scale, or ELS, is an informal, performance-based assessment to evaluate child progress and inform instruction developed by the National Institute for Early Education Research (2010). The ELS is a developmentally appropriate continuum that is directly related to the WV Early Learning Standards Framework, and addresses math/science, social emotional/social studies, and language and literacy domains. The ELS can improve teaching by helping to focus on important skills for children to learn. The ELS is comprised of 10 items that are reflective of key school readiness indicators:
- Number and numerical operations;
- Classification and algebraic thinking;
- Geometry and measurement;
- Scientific inquiry;
- Oral language;
- Phonological awareness;
- Print awareness; and
The Child Outcome Summary Process, or COS, is the method of collecting and analyzing data for federal reporting, as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). In West Virginia, the COS is part of the Early Learning Report System (ELRS). The COS must be completed for students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs). The COS is a process that uses a team approach for reviewing a child’s assessment data from different sources, culminating in the “rating” of a child’s functioning on each of the three national outcome areas using a scale of 1 -7. This reporting is required by the US Department of Education. It is based on a rating scale that considers the child’s functioning compared to other children of the same age.
The process uses the Early Learning Scale (ELS) as the anchor assessment for all children, including those with disabilities. The process considers the child’s functioning across situations and settings, and takes into consideration modifications and adaptations that have been made to assist the child’s participation in the classroom and or setting. The COS process does not require programs to collect more data about the children’s progress; it is a mechanism that allows educators to summarize assessment information for federal reporting as well as for accountability, program planning, teacher driven instruction, and program improvement.
The COS is NOT an assessment instrument. The COS is a form and a process that provides a 7-point scale for describing children’s functioning compared to age expectations. The summary ratings for the student provide an overall picture of how the student functions for each outcome area. The rating process compares a child’s skills and behaviors to those of their peers. For each of the three outcome areas, the teacher and others working with the student (such as related service personnel), decide the extent to which the child displays behaviors and skills expected for their age. The summary rating scale is based on a developmental framework. COS documents a child’s movement toward typical development and documents the extent of the child’s progress. It is a document used for summarizing multiple sources of information, including data from the ELS, parent report on child’s skills and behaviors, norm referenced assessments, clinical and parent observations, progress notes of the therapists working with the child, observations by the teacher, work samples, progress and issues identified in the IEP present level of educational and functional performance, and/or other sources of information to derive a global sense of how the child is doing at that point in time.
The COS is required for each preschool child with an Individual Education Program (IEP). The Entry COS is selected the first time a child is eligible for special education. The Entry COS may be chosen only one time (even if the child receives preschool special education services for multiple school years). Ongoing data is collected every ELRS reporting window for the child in the preschool classroom, and/or if the child is receiving special education (such as speech only services), and is not in a preschool classroom. This ongoing COS is used in conjunction with the ELS data to assist with teacher planning and child driven instruction to embed needed activities and instruction through the child’s preschool day. The Exit COS is completed when the student is leaving the Universal Pre-K program to transition into Kindergarten, and/or is no longer eligible for preschool special education services, and/or has been in the program for at least six months.