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Testing The Whole Child

EDI Takes Closer Look at

Needs of Westbury’s Children

How do you measure if a young child is ready for school? The Early Years Institute (EYI) is hoping to help parents better prepare their children for school. At a recent Westbury Board of Education meeting, they presented the findings of an assessment that shows where the district’s children are lacking.

The EYI is a regional organization focused on early childhood development and making sure that every kid comes to school prepared for success. They do this by working on improving the quality of formal learning environments, such as preschools and daycares, and informal markets.

“We go where parents pay, play and pray. When you look at the world this way, it comes with an interesting list of libraries, pediatricians, parks, churches and early childhood programs,” EYI Founder and President, Dana Friedman, says.

The EYI focuses on getting information to these places and making sure these environments, be they libraries or doctor’s offices, are conducive to learning.

The organization has been doing this on Long Island for five years, but a couple of years ago, realized they needed a tool to measure their effectiveness.  They soon discovered the Early Development Instrument (EDI).

The EDI is a two-part, school readiness assessment approach where teachers reflect on the “whole child.” EYI has administered the test in Westbury twice in the past three years and as the only district in Long Island to have used the EDI, it has served as a pilot program for the rest of the region. In the springtime, teachers completed a 104-item questionnaire for each student in their class, evaluating them on five domains: physical health and well-being, social knowledge and competence, emotional health and maturity, language and cognitive development; and general knowledge and communications skills.  No individual child is identified on the EDI, and the data are not reported back by student, classroom or school. Rather, the data are reported by neighborhood, which helps the community focus on specific areas of need in specific neighborhoods.

Researchers from the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster University in Canada, along with kindergarten teachers and principals, developed the test. It is currently mandated in the public education system throughout Canada and Australia as well as in New Zealand, Chile, Holland and Jamaica.  The state of Texas, Arizona and Mississippi are currently using the EDI as their kindergarten assessment tool.

 “There are very few assessments that look at the whole child. They’re largely looking at numbers and letters and colors. They’re only looking at academics, not emotional or physical development,” Friedman said. “The EDI has no testing of children, the teachers fill it out based on observations. These observations work, teachers know what they’re looking at and they see the whole child.”

Another unique benefit of the assessment is that it can provide a regional view of how children are doing, as opposed to how one child in a class is doing compared to another. In Westbury, it measured students in specific geographic areas including Breezy Hill, Central Westbury, Village of Westbury, Industrial Park, New Cassel, Poet’s Corner, and Sherwood Hills/West Jericho. Results of the EDI showed that New Cassel, Poets Corner, and Breezy Hill had students who were vulnerable in two or more of the domains.

While the EDI cannot provide a clinical diagnosis, it can help communities identify and track the physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and academic categories in which their children are lacking.  In Westbury, the EDI found that children were most lacking in the areas of communication and general knowledge. Students lack the ability to communicate major needs, such as having to go to the bathroom or wanting a snack, which Friedman attributes to a possible lack of playing with other children before coming to school. The study also found that many kindergarten students are lacking basic information about how the world works, such as what you can do at a bank or what the beach looks like.

“Children are not being read to or taken out into the community, so they don’t know the typical thing a 5-year-old would know. [Even] if you haven’t experienced [something], if you’ve read a lot, you can still know [about it],” she says. “The solution is simple. They need to read and saturate in the community more.”

Community engagement is an essential part of the project. The EDI leadership team is comprised of key stakeholders, such as schools, businesses, pediatricians, libraries, PTAs, clergy, and social service agencies. The members of the team meet quarterly to help identify assets in the community, review the EDI data results and explore possible interventions. Friedman says that seeing community organizations work together has been one of the most promising results of the EDI. She has seen many organizations, such as the library, hospitals, and schools, partnering up to improve literacy.

“There are more relationships among various child-serving organizations that are now working together,” Friedman said. “But we still need more leadership in the community to take this on.”