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Hitting the road to promote children’s success in kindergarten

Hitting the road to support kindergarten success

By Joni Wackwitz
April 23, 2019

One of our goals at the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest is to get research into the hands of those who need it. A key way we do this is by presenting at state and national conferences and other events. By traveling to such events, we can reach a variety of practitioners and other audiences, distribute our research and resources more broadly, and promote evidence-based practice.

REL Midwest researchers Billie Jo Day and Jill Bowdon, who lead the Midwest Early Childhood Education Research Alliance (MECERA), recently hit the road to spotlight the alliance’s work at events across Illinois and the nation. MECERA’s long-term goal is to improve grade 3 reading proficiency in Illinois, and members represent Illinois school districts, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), and other agencies.

Supporting teachers in using kindergarten entry assessments to inform instruction

Since 2017, Day and Bowdon have worked with ISBE and other MECERA members to support the rollout of Illinois’ new kindergarten entry assessment, the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS). This support includes leading a series of KIDS Data Use workshops for some 300 kindergarten teachers and administrators in using KIDS data to inform instruction. A set of train-the-trainer workshops then prepared approximately 100 KIDS coaches and others to sustain the support.

To bring this in-demand training to an even wider audience, REL Midwest and MECERA also presented the KIDS Data Use workshop at five state conferences—most recently, the 2018 Mastering KIDS Summit for kindergarten teachers and administrators and the 2019 Ready… Set… Teach! Winter Institute for K–2 teachers and administrators in Chicago Public Schools. The sessions led attendees in analyzing KIDS data and setting action steps. In addition, participants viewed the video Kindergarten Entry Assessments: What You Need to Know, which REL Midwest and MECERA developed to explain the value of these tools, with a focus on KIDS.

MECERA Conference Sessions and Screenings


Dec. 12: Kindergarten: Where Play and Learning Can Meet documentary screening, Valley View School District, Illinois

Dec. 13: Power of Translating Data to Improve Classroom Outcomes Workshop, 2018 Mastering KIDS Summit


Jan. 15: Kindergarten: Where Play and Learning Can Meet documentary screening, American Institutes for Research (AIR) Chicago Office

Feb. 1: KIDS Data Use Workshop, Ready…Set…Teach! Winter Institute

Feb. 1: Play-Based Learning in Kindergarten, Ready…Set…Teach! Winter Institute

Feb. 12: Play-Based Learning in Kindergarten, Illinois Annual Statewide ESSA Conference

Feb. 26: Virtual Brown Bag: A REL Midwest Research-Practice Partnership in Illinois, National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships

Mar. 7: Advancing Social and Emotional Learning in Educational Settings with Research-Practice Partnerships Symposium, Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference

Apr. 9: Kindergarten: Where Play and Learning Can Meet

Promoting play-based learning as an appropriate instructional model for KIDS

Day and Bowdon’s recent travels also included several stops to promote MECERA’s new documentary, Kindergarten: Where Play and Learning Can Meet. This 30-minute program describes developmentally appropriate classroom practices for kindergarten observational assessments, such as KIDS. Produced in collaboration with WTTW, Chicago’s public TV station, the documentary draws on insights from research and experts in the field to explore the use of play-based learning in kindergarten as well as how two Illinois districts have transitioned to a play-based curriculum. A viewing guide provides questions to facilitate discussion.

In February, Day and Bowdon screened the documentary at two state conferences: the Ready…Set…Teach! Winter Institute and the Illinois ESSA Conference. MECERA also held public screenings of the documentary at the districts featured in the program—Valley View and District U-46—as well as at the Chicago office of AIR, which manages REL Midwest. After the screenings, panel discussions enabled those in attendance to ask questions about the research and practices featured in the documentary.

“Our objective,” explained Bowdon, “was to share the research on the cognitive and social-emotional benefits of play-based learning and help practitioners see how Illinois districts similar to theirs have addressed the challenges of moving to this type of curriculum in kindergarten.”


The screenings prompted lively discussions among the attendees. Approximately 80 families, teachers, and community members attended the Valley View screening. In Chicago, attendees included researchers, advocacy groups, and parent teacher association members. Questions focused on the challenges of implementing a play-based curriculum, the frameworks used, and ways to involve families.


Day noted that the screenings have enabled MECERA members to connect with key early childhood groups across the state, including prekindergarten teachers, parents, and early childhood advocacy groups. “We’re extending the reach of the alliance,” said Day, “and encouraging discussion statewide on KIDS and play-based learning.”

Districts interested in play-based learning may want to screen the documentary for kindergarten teachers and administrators during a professional development day at the start of the school year. The program can also serve as a resource for professional learning communities, and school leadership may want to view the program to think through barriers related to adopting a play-based curriculum.

Supporting children’s social and emotional development

In February and March, Bowdon presented at two events to showcase how research-practice partnerships, such as MECERA, can help advance children’s social and emotional development. The presentations, which were geared to both researchers and practitioners, took place at a virtual brown bag session for the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships and as part of a symposium at the spring 2019 conference of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.

Down the road

Check back for updates on MECERA‚Äôs work and to browse the latest resources. Here’s what’s ahead:

  • Additional KIDS training: The MECERA team plans to hit the road again in 2019 to roll out two new trainings. These workshops will support kindergarten teachers’ capacity for observational data collection and strengthen prekindergarten providers’ understanding and use of KIDS.
  • Results of the first statewide administration of KIDS: A report of REL Midwest’s analysis of the first statewide administration of KIDS in fall 2017 is expected later in 2019, along with an infographic highlighting the key findings and implications.

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Author(s) Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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