A new report urged more assessments for Virginia kindergartners after finding many fell short of benchmarks. (Ankur Khator)

A University of Virginia report published last week found that about a third of Virginia youngsters rated poorly on kindergarten readiness and argued that more assessments are needed for young students to identify where they fall short.

The report was based on a two-year study of approximately 2,000 kindergarten students around Virginia who were evaluated in four areas: literacy, math, self-regulation and social development. Currently, the state only requires a literacy assessment, though some districts conduct additional testing.

They found a third of students fell short of benchmarks in at least one area. In 40 percent of classrooms, 40 percent of children were rated “not ready” in one area. The report does not disclose which districts participated, but said the students in the study were representative of the state’s kindergartners.

Amanda Williford, a professor and one of the report’s authors, acknowledged that getting the state to adopt another assessment for students could be a tough sell. Last year, state lawmakers moved to curb standardized testing.

But she said these assessments are intended to be used exclusively to inform the way a teacher instructs students, not to judge academic performance. And teachers, she said, found them useful.

“I really think knowing where kids are is important,” she said. “This assessment helps teachers be able to do that.”

Del. Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria), who has advocated for cutting back standardized testing, supports the pilot program and believes it could be useful if adopted statewide. He believes the assessments would need to be streamlined to avoid taking away from class time but thinks the information will be valuable.

“Having a comprehensive assessment for children to evaluate how well they are prepared and to give teachers information to catch them up is really important,” he said. The results of the pilot also show the need for expansion of early childhood education in the state, he said.

Williford said research has demonstrated that youngsters who fall short in those four areas can face educational challenges. But she said they’re not arguing that the children should be held out of kindergarten. Instead, they need interventions to get them on track before they fall further behind.

The goal, Williford said, is to give teachers better tools to figure out which students need extra help and training to tailor lessons to a student’s weaknesses.

“Without that early intervention, they’re much less likely to be successful,” she said.

In the course of the study, researchers conducted one-on-one assessments of students, and teachers also filled out evaluations.

The report, which was funded by the state and the nonpartisan advocacy group Elevate Early Education, includes recommendations for the state to adopt the assessments, giving districts the option of participating. It also recommends training teachers to help students learn self-regulation skills such as staying on task and working in groups.

Lisa Howard, president of Elevate Early Education, said a pilot program that would allow school districts to opt in would cost the state about $1.7 million in the first year and $1.2 million in subsequent years.

She said teachers who participated in the pilot responded positively.

“Teachers told us that the data was useful to them and that they used the information to guide their instruction,” she said.

Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, an advocacy group dedicated to ending the misuse of standardized testing, reviewed the report and cautioned that assessing students is useless — or even harmful — if the schools do not follow up to address the gaps.

“It would depend on what interventions follow that categorization whether it’s harmful or potentially helpful,” he said.