Demystify the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment for Families

7 Ways to Demystify a Kindergarten Readiness Assessment for Families

Read our recent blog post demystifying a common tool: the kindergarten readiness assessment.

by ParentPowered contributing author Curran Mahowald, M.A. Cognitive Science in Education

When a child first enters school, educators are welcoming not just a new student, but a new family. And just as some experiences of formal schooling may be new to children, like cubbies and large-group activities, parents and caregivers will be encountering some new concepts for the first time as well.

One of these concepts is assessment.

From benchmarking to exit tickets to standardized testing, there is a lot of assessment happening at school, all the time!

But for your newest families who are just sending their young kids into school for the first time, or getting ready to launch their kids from the nurturing nest of preschool into the K-12 system, assessments can feel overwhelming, judgmental, and frightening. Even experienced parents may be wondering: What will my child be tested on? How can I prepare them? What happens if my child isn’t ready? 

A preschool teacher holds a block and smiles at her preschool student.

In this blog post, we’ll provide some quick, family-friendly responses educators can give to parents and caregivers when they ask these questions. We’ll also share some information for educators trying to find or develop a kindergarten readiness assessment.

The ultimate goal of kindergarten readiness assessments is to help the team of caring adults who support the child’s learning be informed on the child’s developmental progress. Having a clear picture of each child’s strengths, needs, and interests allows the adults in a child’s life to design the best supports and instruction possible to help them thrive in school. 

Helping parents and caregivers understand this can assuage many fears and promote trusting relationships between families and schools.

New call-to-action

The ABCs of KRAs

What is a kindergarten readiness assessment (KRA)?

Also known as a kindergarten entry assessment (KEA) or a kindergarten entry inventory, a KRA is a test of competencies that help children succeed in kindergarten, such as following two-step directions and expressing their own needs and wants. 

Children are continuously learning and growing, and they will pick up plenty of knowledge and skills during kindergarten. The KRA is not a content assessment that children need to study or prepare for. It is a snapshot of a child’s development, and the results can help families and educators know how to best support each child’s continued learning.

What Educators Know

Also known as a kindergarten entry assessment (KEA) or a kindergarten entry inventory, a KRA is a test of competencies that help children succeed in kindergarten, such as following two-step directions and expressing their own needs and wants. 

Children are continuously learning and growing, and they will pick up plenty of knowledge and skills during kindergarten. The KRA is not a content assessment that children need to study or prepare for. It is a snapshot of a child’s development, and the results can help families and educators know how to best support each child’s continued learning.

What You Can Tell Families

A kindergarten readiness assessment (KRA) is a test of skills that are important for kindergarten. Teachers want to know what your child can already do so they can best support her continued learning in kindergarten. They also want to know about your child’s interests and any way they can help meet her unique needs.

The KRA is not a test to study for or prepare for. Just by talking with your child, caring for your child, and allowing her to play and explore her environment, you’ve been helping her get ready for kindergarten all along. 

Children are always learning and growing. The KRA does not show how smart your child is, how well she will do in school, or how much potential she has. It is just a snapshot of your child’s development at one point in time.

When are kindergarten readiness assessments administered?

What Educators Know

KRAs are usually administered during the first several weeks or months of kindergarten. Although some children may be assessed on or near the first day of school, the administration window can stretch all the way to November.

What You Can Tell Families

Your child will be asked to do the KRA near the beginning of their kindergarten year.  
Your child may do the KRA during the first days or weeks of school, or she may do a little further into the school year. Some schools test students all the way into November.

What do kindergarten assessments measure?

What Educators Know

Research has shown that the skills and knowledge that best predict success in school fall into five main categories or domains.

The official 5 domains defined by the Office of Head Start are:

  1. Language and literacy skills
  2. Cognition and general knowledge (includes math / STEM)
  3. Approaches to learning (e.g. curiosity and persistence)
  4. Physical well-being and motor skills development
  5. Social and emotional development (e.g. sharing emotions, initiating friendships)

What You Can Tell Families

Education researchers have studied how children do in kindergarten depending on the different skill sets they begin with. It turns out there are lots of different kinds of skills that help children thrive in kindergarten. 

The Office of Head Start gives these 5 categories for early learning:

  1. Language and literacy skills
  2. Cognition and general knowledge (includes math / STEM)
  3. Approaches to learning (for example—curiosity and persistence)
  4. Physical well-being and motor skills development
  5. Social and emotional development (for example—sharing emotions, making friends)

The most important skills for kindergarten, according to research, are language skills and executive function. Executive function means self-control, adapting to change, and not giving up when things are hard.

How are kindergarten readiness assessments administered?

What Educators Know

The formal process for school readiness assessments can vary depending on the specific school district administering them, but common tools may include:

  • Observation items: Teachers or assessors observe the child’s behavior, social interactions, communication skills, and other relevant factors during play or everyday activities. They may use a kindergarten readiness checklist to keep track of age-appropriate behaviors.
  • Interviews: Parents or guardians may be interviewed to gather information about the child’s development, interests, and previous educational experiences. Here there are many acceptable responses and no “right answer.” The information is used to improve kindergarten preparedness on the school’s part. Many screeners involve parent and family input. Examples of screeners that take parent or caregiver input include the Ages & Stages Questionnaires®, Third Edition (ASQ®-3) from Brookes Publishing,1 BRIGANCE™ from Curriculum Associates, the Survey of Well-being of Young Children (SWYC)™ and the Developmental Assessment of Young Children, Second Edition (DAYC-2) from Pearson.
  • Standardized Tests: Some schools use standardized tests to assess a child’s cognitive abilities, language skills, pre-literacy, and pre-numeracy skills. These tests may involve answering questions, completing fine-motor tasks, or identifying shapes, letters, or numbers.
  • Kindergarten Checklists: Assessors may employ school readiness checklists to assess the child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. These checklists typically contain a series of statements or criteria that the assessor marks as “observed” or “not observed” based on the child’s abilities.

What You Can Tell Families

KRAs may look different at different schools. Here are some things that may happen at your school:

  • Observation: Teachers watch how your child acts and talks. Your child may be playing or doing another everyday activity. Your child may be playing alone or with another child. The teacher may use a kindergarten readiness checklist to keep track of behaviors that are appropriate for their age.
  • Interviews: You may be asked questions about your child’s development, interests, and experiences in education. There are no right or wrong answers here. The information is used to help the school better prepare for your child’s kindergarten experience. For some KRAs, parent answers are a big part of the process. Some of the most common KRAs all use parent input.
  • Standardized Tests: Standardized means that different children’s results on the test can be easily compared. Standardized tests help schools get a bigger picture of how all their students are doing compared to some baseline. This is why schools sometimes use standardized tests to assess your child’s thinking abilities, language skills, readiness for reading and math, and other skills. These tests may involve answering questions, completing tasks that require hand-eye coordination, or identifying shapes, letters, or numbers.
  • Kindergarten Checklists: Teachers may use checklists to keep track of your child’s development. Each skill on the checklist usually has a specific definition. The teacher marks each one as “observed” or “not observed” based on your child’s abilities.

Remember, these assessments help the school understand your child’s strengths and areas where they may need support. If you have any questions about your school’s assessment, reach out and ask!

How long does a kindergarten readiness assessment take?

What Educators Know

The assessment session usually lasts for a specified period, typically ranging from 30 minutes to an hour. The exact duration can vary depending on the assessment tools used and the child’s engagement and attention span.

What You Can Tell Families

KRAs usually take less than an hour. They may be as short as 15 minutes, or sometimes 30 minutes. The time a KRA takes depends on which assessment is used and on your child’s attention span and engagement.

Are parents or caregivers involved in kindergarten readiness assessments?

What Educators Know

This varies between education agencies and assessment procedures. In some cases, kindergarten parents may be present during a school-administered assessment session to provide support, give context for student responses, or answer additional questions about their child.

In other cases, the assessment is explicitly designed to use parents’ reports of their child’s behavior at home. Incorporating parent-reported measures into the assessment process allows for a more comprehensive and accurate profile of the child’s readiness for various educational activities. The combination of parent reports with other assessment practices allows for a more holistic understanding of the child’s abilities, strengths, and areas for further support.

What You Can Tell Families

It depends!

Sometimes, you’ll have the option to be there with your child during the kindergarten readiness assessment. If you’d like, you can offer support to your child and tell the teacher what you know about your child’s strengths, needs, and interests.

Other times, you’ll play a bigger role in the assessment. Teachers like to hear from you about your child. This helps create a complete and accurate picture of the child’s readiness for different educational activities.

By using information from parents along with direct testing and observation of the child, the school may be able to get a more complete understanding of the child’s readiness.

What are kindergarten readiness assessments used for?

What Educators Know

  • Identifying potential delays and giftedness (The term “kindergarten screening” is usually used for assessments designed to help identify disabilities or delays)
  • Supporting referrals for services
  • Helping kindergarten teachers design student instruction
  • Informing the allocation of instructional resources
  • Collecting data for aggregate reporting to measure equity and progress

What You Can Tell Families

KRAs help teachers and administrators know how best to support both the child and the classroom. For example, they can be used to:

  • Help kindergarten teachers plan their classes
  • Find out whether your child should get tested for a delay, disability, or giftedness (The term “kindergarten screening” is usually used for these assessments)
  • Suggest any services that may help your child thrive in school
  • Let district and state leaders know which schools could benefit from different resources 
  • Keep track of whether all students are given the opportunity to succeed, regardless of their background
New call-to-action

Finding the right KRA for your school

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a kindergarten readiness assessment. You want something that is valid and reliable, aligns with your learning standards, is culturally responsive and appropriate for all of the diverse students you serve, and is practical to implement. 

The rest of this article is dedicated to giving an overview of the types of options available and sharing some resources and approaches to consider when making this important decision.

State-developed KRA tools

Many states have also developed their own kindergarten readiness assessment, thanks to funding from the federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

The Public Health Informatics Institute offers a comprehensive but not necessarily exhaustive list of kindergarten readiness assessments.

The Compendium of Screening Measures for Young Children, created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), comprises evidence-based screening tools designed for children below the age of five. It provides comprehensive information about screeners, including summarizing evidence of reliability and validity for common commercially available screeners such as the Ages & Stages Questionnaires®, Third Edition (ASQ®-3) from Brookes Publishing1, BRIGANCE™ from Curriculum Associates, and the Developmental Assessment of Young Children, Second Edition (DAYC-2) from Pearson. 

StateKRA Title
AlaskaAlaska Development Profile
DelawareDelaware Early Learner Survey (DE-ELS
GeorgiaGeorgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills
IllinoisKindergarten Individual Development Survey
Maryland & OhioKindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA)
UtahKindergarten Entry and Exit Profile
TennesseeKindergarten Entry Inventory
WashingtonWashington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills

Professionals working in early care and education, primary healthcare, child welfare, and mental health can utilize this resource to acquire information on the cost, administration time, quality level, training prerequisites, and age range applicable to each screening tool.

Non-traditional KRA tools

Sometimes, the best tests for children are the ones that don’t even feel like tests. In our previous blog post on kindergarten readiness checklists, we showed how observing a child throughout his normal daily activities can provide evidence of development in all five readiness domains. Observations are one great way to the readiness of a child for kindergarten, especially when it comes to life skills like persistence and curiosity. But what if you want to drill down on some more academic content knowledge without making the assessment feel like an assessment?

Some educators have experimented with turning a more familiar activity, like reading an interactive book, into a kindergarten screener. Even with an informal format, the rules of assessment still apply: It’s important to identify the precise standards-based skills and knowledge the test is meant to evaluate and create opportunities for the child to demonstrate these.

To show you an example of how you might evaluate the potential of an everyday activity for use as an assessment tool, we’ll go through an example with an interactive book.

The book Press Here by Herve Tullet has been used by some educators as an informal kindergarten readiness assessment. Press Here is an interactive book that prompts the child to take an action at each page. The child responses are behaviors rather than verbal responses, so this book is more suited to probing oral language comprehension than language production. Let’s examine how well it matches up with content standards for early learning.

Approaches to Learning

Nothing in this book elicits child behavior related to approaches to learning.

The book tells the child what to do rather than leaving choices up to them. Therefore, there isn’t much opportunity to demonstrate initiative and curiosity.

One way the book could incorporate this domain is to ask children to imagine all the different shapes of animals or objects they could make by arranging the dots in different ways.

Social and Emotional Development

Unless there are multiple children using it at the same time, this book doesn’t afford any opportunities to see the child engage in cooperative play or develop positive relationships with adults. The content of the book is emotionally neutral, and without any actual characters (the storyline traces the movement of dots) there’s no opportunity for a child to express care or concern for others.

Three multi-ethnic preschool children smile at the camera and put their arms around each other.

Language and Literacy

While being read the book, the child can demonstrate comprehension of some language. (As mentioned above, this book does not prompt children to say anything, so it can’t be used to assess productive language use in terms of spoken communication or vocabulary.) However, the language used in the book is not particularly rich or complex. It uses simple vocabulary and syntactic constructions. Most of the sentences are commands, such as Press here and touch the page. Therefore, children do not have the opportunity to show comprehension of:

  • variety of question types
  • a variety of sentence types, such as multi-clause, cause-effect, sequential order, or if-then
  • talk related to the past or future

Of course, an adult using the book would be able to see how children handle the book. Does the child know where the book begins? Can the child open and close the book and turn pages appropriately? These are important early literacy skills.


This book prompts children to count to five and follow directions with math-related words like all, once, and more. Using language related to directionality and the position of objects is an important kindergarten readiness skill. Children being read this book follow directions involving left and right.

The dots do change sizes over the course of the book as a “result” of child actions, but the child is not required to use or understand language about shape or size.

Perception, Motor, and Physical Development

This is the development area best probed by Press Here.

Children practice being gentle versus pressing hard, clapping, blowing, pressing, tapping, rubbing, and shaking.

One of the main strengths of this book from a child development perspective is that it shows kids how reading can be an interactive process. The little experimenters that they are, kids will enjoy seeing the result of their actions. After they shake the book, the next page shows the colored dots all mixed together on the side of each page. Pressing the dots turns the lights off—that is, the background of the pages goes dark. Clapping makes the dots bigger. What fun!

All in all, this book doesn’t cover every skill in every domain, so it wouldn’t function as a comprehensive kindergarten readiness assessment. However, it could be a fun and informal way to spot check a few of the kindergarten readiness skills.

New call-to-action

Kindergarten readiness, one step at a time

As a child steps into the exciting world of kindergarten, educators embrace the opportunity to welcome and involve parents in their child’s educational experience. Starting kindergarten can be a significant milestone for both children and parents. Kids have the best opportunity to thrive when school districts support families and forge authentic partnerships with them. 

In the early years, one of the best ways schools can support families is to help them understand kindergarten readiness. But with five interconnected domains of development to keep track of, understanding early childhood learning and growth can seem like a daunting project. ParentPowered’s family engagement program helps families take small but powerful steps each day to support their child on their journey to kindergarten and through school. 

When educators partner with families to promote kindergarten readiness, everyone can feel confident to take this important step with the child on their learning journey.


1ASQ is a registered trademark of Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc. The screener and the texts cover five domains: Communication, Gross Motor, Fine Motor, Personal-Social, and Problem Solving.

New call-to-action
About the author

Curran Mahowald is a former high school language teacher turned education research advocate. In addition to having worked at ParentPowered, she has also designed parent-facing informational materials at Oakland Unified School District and currently works on improving national research-to-practice infrastructure at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. Curran holds an M.A. in Cognitive Science in Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and B.A.s in Linguistics and French from the University of Southern California.

Sign up to get Everyday Learning Moments delivered straight to your inbox.

Every week you'll receive new resources for families, insights from research, and direct feedback from families about what they want from you, their educational partners.

You May Also Like