A new kindergarten readiness screen developed by University of Missouri researchers allows a kindergarten teacher to screen all the students in a classroom in 15 minutes at the beginning of the kindergarten year.

The screening tool was tested with 19 teachers in six elementary schools and involved 350 students. It allows teachers to efficiently assess the social, behavioral and academic skills of students. That can tell teachers the areas in which they need to work with specific students during the school year, said Melissa Stormont, professor of special education in the MU College of Education. Teachers have only three items on which to measure each child.

The study, published online by the journal School Psychology, was designed to test the effectiveness of a brief and feasible universal screening tool for kindergarten readiness that would predict outcomes in first grade.

For example, if the screen determines a student doesn't follow directions well, that is the area that a teacher can focus on with the child.

"I think we've always known as researchers that teachers have a feeling of how their children are performing," Stormont said.

According to a news release from the university, the researchers compared the students’ scores from the test to performance on a math and reading achievement test and teacher ratings of their social and emotional skills 18 months later. Children with low academic readiness scores were nine to 10 times more likely to have low reading scores at the end of first grade. Children who rated poor in behavior readiness were six times more likely to be rated as having displayed disruptive behavior and poor social skills by their first-grade teachers.

"That's the importance of doing the screening really early in the kindergarten year," Stormont said. "The teacher can use the results for meaningful instructional change."

The ease of use is an important part of the screen, Stormont said.

"It's very, very easy to use and people can understand what it means," she said.

The screen is ready to be piloted in any school, she said.

Parents play an important role in school readiness, Stormont said. Discussing the behavior expected in a classroom, including practice taking turns and following direction, as well as discussing those expectations with their child's teacher, can help children learn classroom routines, the university news release stated.

Keith Herman, a co-author of the study and professor of education, school and counseling psychology, said the screen is feasible and works as well as more complicated standardized achievement tests do, while arriving at the same results.

"Just with two simple questions, teachers are pretty readily able to identify kids who are at risk," Herman said.

It's an important area of study, he said.

"Kindergarten and early school success predicts future school success," Herman said.

The screen is useful for its efficiency and accuracy, he said.

rmckinney@columbiatribune.com