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State to develop kindergarten test as part of Early Learning bid

Starting in 2014, children will have to take a test when they start kindergarten, according to a commitment New York State has made to boost its chance of winning up to $100 million in the federal “Early Learning Challenge.”

Currently, New York City administers a school readiness exam, called Bracken, to children applying for gifted programs. But in most schools across the city and state, kindergarten teachers learn about their students’ strengths and weaknesses over the course of the year. Now they will have a standard “kindergarten readiness measurement tool” to help them.

The new test will let schools identify a “baseline” for each student who enrolls against which they can measure progress — or lack of progress. But children won’t be barred from enrollment or sent to special education on the basis of poor scores, and the scores won’t be factored into teacher evaluations, according to the state’s press release.

The tool is one promise in New York State’s application to this year’s lower-key Race to the Top competition, which focused on early childhood education. The application also promises that New York will create Common Core-aligned pre-kindergarten standards and introduce a quality rating for early childhood programs.

The rating system named in the state’s application, QUALITYStarsNY, is the same one being used in New York City to rate programs as part of a local bid to improve early childhood education. Last month, over the objection of elected officials who said the initiative was moving too fast, public daycare programs had to submit plans to prove that they are worthy of public funding. EarlyLearn and the federal Early Learning Challenge both aim to tackle the reality that many children are already struggling by the time they reach school.

New York could land up to $100 million in federal funds — a small portion of its $700 million 2010 Race to the Top take, but still more than most states. Thirty-four states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico filed applications today. Winners will be announced by the end of the year.