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Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance

Download the alliance’s overview handout [255 KB PDF icon ]

Partnership Facilitator

Billie Jo Day

Research Liaisons

Jill Bowdon

Heather Lavigne

Partnership Objective

The earliest years of a child’s life are a crucial period of development, with the brain forming more than 1 million new neural connections per second. Healthy environments and rich experiences during the early years provide a strong start and can have a lasting impact on an individual’s achievement, health, and even earnings. Investing in young children’s social-emotional development promotes long-term success, leading to higher self-esteem, increased motivation, and better relationships with peers—making this a high-leverage topic for education stakeholders across the Midwest region.

The REL Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance (MECERA) brings together multiagency early childhood practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to increase the region’s capacity to access, conduct, interpret, and make sense of early childhood education research and to support the use of this research in decisionmaking at the state and local levels. MECERA’s primary focus is early childhood education in Illinois. In addition, a community of practice connects key stakeholders across the region and is an active partner in the research process.

Illinois has received several federal grants to expand access to early childhood education. Additionally, the Illinois State Board of Education is implementing a new kindergarten entry assessment and is committed to using the data to identify gaps in school readiness and to align the early childhood and K–12 systems more strategically.


  • Amy Blaum, Nokomis Public Schools
  • Shelia Boozer, Springfield Public Schools
  • Stephanie Cohen, Chicago Public Schools
  • Nicole Counihan, Valley View Public Schools
  • Mary Beth Corrigan, Illinois Department of Children & Family Services
  • Jane Fleming, Chicago Public Schools
  • Jason Helfer, Illinois State Board of Education
  • Nakisha Hobbs, Illinois Department of Human Services
  • Carisa Hurley, Illinois State Board of Education
  • Kimberly Mann, Illinois Department of Child and Family Services
  • Andrew McCree, Ann Reid Early Childhood Center
  • Lauri Morrison-Frichtl, Illinois Head Start Association
  • Kimberly Nelson, Rockford Public Schools
  • Arthur Noble, Chicago Public Schools
  • Peggy Ondera, Elgin Area School District U46
  • Bethany Patten, Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development
  • Elliot Regenstein, Foresight Law and Policy
  • Charlie Rosemond, Northern Illinois University
  • Emily Simon, Chicago Public Schools
  • Megan Smith, Valley View Public Schools
  • Cynthia Tate, Illinois Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development
  • Jillian Tsoukalas, Valley View Public Schools

Training, Coaching, and Technical Support Projects

The Kindergarten Individual Development Survey: The Ins and Outs of Observational Data Collection

REL Midwest is developing a training for district administrators and kindergarten teachers in Illinois. REL Midwest is offering three in-person opportunities to take the training in Illinois, as well as a virtual training. The trainings define observational data collection, introduce best practices of observational data collection, and provide concrete examples based on the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey statewide readiness indicators.

Demystifying the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey for Illinois Prekindergarten Providers

Building on previous training projects with MECERA, REL Midwest is developing trainings on the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) for prekindergarten (preK) providers in Illinois. The trainings introduce the KIDS instrument, explain and provide examples of the statewide readiness indicators, offer examples of how preK teachers can use the readiness indicators to inform literacy instruction, review crosswalks between KIDS and other common early childhood assessments, and analyze district KIDS data. REL Midwest is facilitating in-person sessions to bring together groups of preK providers working in the same district, as well as a virtual session to ensure that all Illinois preK educators can learn more about KIDS.

Interpreting the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey Workshops

REL Midwest is hosting data use workshops to help Illinois teachers use results from the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS), a kindergarten entry assessment, to set education goals and action steps. In the workshops, teachers have the opportunity to analyze their classrooms’ KIDS data in collaboration with their colleagues. The content is intended primarily for teachers, but school and district administrators who support kindergarten teachers also can benefit. A recording and handouts are available for viewing and download.

Additionally, REL Midwest is working with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to build capacity in the state for local stakeholders to offer the KIDS data use workshops. REL Midwest is providing three training-of-trainers sessions to KIDS coaches, regional education staff, district-nominated teacher leaders, administrators, and other staff to assist ISBE in developing a sustainable training plan for kindergarten teachers. Resources—including a facilitator’s guide, workbook, and slide decks—are available for viewing and download.

Works in Progress

Analysis of Illinois District-Level Reading Achievement Outcomes in Kindergarten and Grade 1 by Student Characteristics

This descriptive study is examining whether reading achievement gaps observed in two districts in Illinois are present in kindergarten. If so, the study will examine whether those gaps widen for some subgroups of students more than others as they move across kindergarten into grade 1.


Children’s Knowledge and Skills at Kindergarten Entry in Illinois: Results from the First Statewide Administration of the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey

This REL Midwest study analyzed the psychometric properties of the survey’s 14 required items and examined average skills and the variation in skill levels at kindergarten entry. It also interviewed teachers and principals about administration barriers and suggestions for improvement. A related infographic [229 KB PDF icon ] highlights the study’s key findings.