Blog author Janice Keizer is a senior technical assistance consultant with REL Southwest. She coordinates the work of our Early Childhood Education Research Partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE).
The Oklahoma Early Learning Inventory (ELI) is a free, comprehensive observational tool to assess kindergarten students’ knowledge and skills at the start of the school year and to monitor students’ progress in these areas across the year. REL Southwest and the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) have worked together to develop, launch, and support the use of the ELI through our Southwest Early Childhood Education Research Partnership. Using this tool, Oklahoma educators can quickly and purposefully gather information about 26 indicators of foundational knowledge and skills in students’ literacy, mathematics, fine and gross motor skills, and skills to support learning such as taking initiative, persistence when managing challenges, increasing independence, and focus and completion of tasks.
To use the ELI, teachers observe their students during regular daily activities. Observations can take place during small-group instruction, center time, one-on-one instruction, or when children engage in gross motor/outdoor play. To collect accurate and informative student data through observation, teachers must have content knowledge of the skills measured within the 26 ELI indicators, observe over time and in varied situations, and use a system to document what is observed.1 Then, using the ELI’s observational rubrics, teachers identify where individual students are in the learning progression for each area of knowledge or skill. Teachers can then run reports from the ELI Dashboard, which helps them to group students according to similar educational strengths and needs, plan individualized instruction, and communicate with families to support student learning and development.
During the 2021/22 school year, OSDE invited districts and kindergarten teachers to participate in a pilot study of the ELI. In partnership with REL Southwest, OSDE used surveys and focus groups to gather information about the implementation of the ELI training and teachers’ use of the ELI tool and dashboard in schools to identify opportunities for refinement and improvement. In addition, REL Southwest analyzed ELI data obtained during the pilot study to obtain evidence of its validity and reliability in Oklahoma public schools. The pilot study sample included 46 teachers and 853 students across 12 districts. The analysis provided support for two valid and reliable ELI domains: Early academic competencies and Skills to support learning.
In an online survey conducted in March 2022, 44 kindergarten teachers at the pilot study sites shared their views on the benefits of the ELI during the 2021/22 school year. One teacher said that the ELI helped her to conduct more focused student observations. "After the ELI training, I was more intentional about observing skills that I would not usually focus as much on, such as gross and fine motor skills and listening/following directions. These are areas that I have always noticed and paid attention to while planning instruction, but gathering data for the ELI rating for those indicators helped me notice more specific things and group students together for different activities. This helped my students because I was able to better meet their needs in all areas." Another commented that "the ELI is a useful tool for gathering [student] readiness data based on the whole child." These views are further supported by ELI pilot study teachers who, in focus groups, shared that the ELI is "well-suited and complements other commonly used assessment instruments such as Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP) Growth, but the ELI provides more information about student growth and learning in gross and fine motor skills and listening/following directions."
During focus group discussions with 45 teachers, they reported that during the first 30 instructional days of the school year they most often gathered evidence of students’ knowledge, behaviors, and skills during regularly planned small-group instruction time. Teachers also indicated that they used both natural classroom observations and structured activities to gather information about their students to inform the ELI ratings across the rubrics’ six levels of the learning progressions.
In focus groups, teachers also reported that they found the ELI useful in the following ways:
Teachers reported that using the ELI helps focus their observation skills and supports instructional planning. Survey results showed that approximately 66 percent of teachers reported the ELI was easy to use and 60 percent of teachers reported using ELI reports to plan one-on-one, small group, and whole-group instructional activities at least once.
Listening and learning from the ELI pilot study teachers, OSDE staff are developing informational handouts for teachers to share with families that address the indicators assessed in the ELI. The handouts include an explanation of the indicator, how it is assessed, and ideas for supporting student learning and skill development at home. OSDE staff are using feedback from the ELI pilot study teachers to make improvements to the ELI training and data dashboard. OSDE is planning to develop new resources to support teachers’ use of the ELI, such as professional development webinars for teachers and how-to guides for effective and authentic observations. Additionally, regular office hours and webinars provide opportunities for ELI users to connect with OSDE staff and colleagues to discuss use of the ELI, share observation and instructional planning tips and ideas, and talk about best practices for sharing ELI data with families and improving instruction.
1Jablon, J. R., Dombro, A. L., Dichtelmiller, M. L. (2007). The Power of Observation Birth to Age 8: Second Edition. Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc.
For more information on the Early Learning Inventory and the work of the Southwest Early Childhood Education Research Partnership:
From the Oklahoma State Department of Education:
From REL Southwest: