Improving Early Childhood Assessment is a Matter of Equity

By Jeanna Baxter White

In 1998, businessman and philanthropist Allen Mebane established the Mebane Foundation to support innovative educational endeavors. Since its inception, the Foundation has served as a catalyst by granting more than $25 million to educational program partners across the state while simultaneously leveraging that amount in public-private partnerships. The result? More than $30 million has been injected into innovative educational initiatives. To celebrate our 25th anniversary, we will be resharing some of the wonderful programs that are preparing children for life through literacy.

Mebane Foundation President, Larry Colbourne, learned about Dr. Tammy Kwan and Cognitive ToyBox through a 2017 grant to 4.0 Schools, a non-profit incubator that finds, trains, and invests in passionate people solving the most critical challenges in education. Cognitive ToyBox enables a direct assessment of early language, literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and supporting individual student needs. Recognizing its applicability to the preschool portion of DavieLEADS, he shared the program with Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools, and Stephanie Nelson, Davie County Schools’ preschool collaborative teacher. Davie County Preschools began piloting CTB Assess during the spring of 2018 and has been pleased with the information it provides ever since. 

“Over the past several years, we have been able to use Cognitive Toy Box in our classrooms to capture the current progress of our students that is objective vs subjective in nature. This data, along with teacher observations and anecdotal notes, enables teachers to identify consistent areas of need where students need more support.  With the cumulative data, our teachers are equipped to plan lessons based on the classroom and individual student needs,” explained Nuckolls.   

Nelson added, “Our teachers have shared that it’s very helpful because their assistant can complete Cognitive ToyBox data collection with students, and they can access it later. For example, the teacher can be collecting anecdotal data while leading small groups, and the instructional assistant can work on Cognitve ToyBox during centers. The instructional assistants have noticed trends like we need to work on recognizing a certain emotion, or most students still can’t identify a triangle, etc.  It helps both the teacher and the instructional assistant engage in more purposeful educational play and conversations with students in the classroom.” 

Colbourne considers Cognitive ToyBox well worth the investment. “The Mebane Foundation has been a funding partner in Davie County with Tammy Kwan and Cognitive ToyBox for many years. Her direct assessment tool continues to be used in all Pre-K classrooms in conjunction with Teaching Strategies GOLD, but to be honest, from my personal observation, I believe Cognitive ToyBox could be used as a standalone assessment. It’s engaging for the children, it’s quick, it’s individualized, and kicks out data that is invaluable to the teacher. Not to mention, in my opinion, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of an assessment process that historically has been handled in a very time-consuming observation setting.”

Below, Dr. Kwan discusses the value and importance of high-quality early childhood education. 

Stephanie Nelson, Davie County Schools preschool collaborative teacher, plays a CTB Assess game with a student.

By Dr. Tammy Kwan

Across the country, dedicated early childhood teachers are building positive, supportive relationships that help each young learner develop on an individual pathway and explore their interests through joyful, play-based activities.

While high-quality early learning experiences like these reach many students, they should be the standard for all children. Research shows that the quality of an early childhood program is the strongest predictor of school readiness and life outcomes. As state-level leaders remain eager to ensure that investments in early childhood education pay off down the road, they should look to quality as their priority. Without quality, programs will not achieve their desired outcomes. One of the ten quality standards set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children is early childhood assessment. Why is early childhood assessment important? Because if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Assessment determines the type of instruction a child receives. If a child is accurately assessed in their early childhood education setting, they can receive instruction that is aligned with their development, leading to engaged and joyful learning environments. If the opposite happens, children could begin to disengage from education in the earliest years.

Today, the primary method of early child assessment, through teacher observations, is known to be burdensome to teachers and at risk of implicit bias. And yet, nearly 60% of states have adopted an observation-only child assessment tool or provided an approved list of assessments that only has observation-based tools for early childhood. Consistent with the literature, a study with 11 teachers in upstate New York, conducted by Dr. Claire Cameron and Dr. Megan McClelland, found that teachers tended to rate Black children as lower in terms of executive functioning and non-Black children as higher in terms of executive functioning. Cognitive ToyBox’s direct, game-based assessment did not show that difference (paper in prep). Game-based assessment can give teachers the information they need to provide more developmentally appropriate instructional support.

Game-based assessment can be an especially helpful supplement for children who have learning differences. Dawn Wilson, a Pre-K teacher in Wayne County, NC, shared, “especially with my children with special needs, the games showed that they know more than we thought they did.” Another advantage of game-based assessment is that teachers are able to get detailed information on a question-level detail, which they can use to further individualize instruction. “The data from Cognitive ToyBox has changed a lot of conversations for us for the better,” said Dr. Stephanie Hinton, Director of Early Childhood at Oklahoma City Public Schools. “Rather than focusing on our class average and mastery score, we’re now having conversations about how 50% of children in the building can’t recognize the letters in their own name, and having dialogue around how to improve that.”

Finally, game-based assessment helps to increase the accessibility of assessment. Observation-based assessment tools are time and resource intensive, taking on average 20-60+ minutes per day for teachers. As a result, only early childhood programs that have an assessment budget and formalized professional development time built into the schedule can have access to these tools. Family child care and smaller center-based providers, which provide support for more than 30% of children under 5 in the US, are often left behind. To ensure that all early childhood education programs can meet quality standards, we need to ensure that assessment tools are accessible, usable, and affordable in all early childhood education settings. Game-based assessment can help by providing cost-effective tools that take less time to learn and implement but still yield accurate, useful data for family child care providers and small center-based providers. The time-savings benefit could also be beneficial to larger early childhood programs that are facing unprecedented levels of turnover from a combination of low wages and teacher burnout.

The federal Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework, which also shapes state Pre-K assessment and kindergarten entry assessment policies, mandates that “a program must conduct standardized and structured assessments, which may be observation-based or direct.” However, to ensure equitable assessment, programs should be conducting observation-based and direct assessments on an ongoing basis. Game-based technology makes it possible to design direct assessments that are play-based and developmentally appropriate for young learners. 

As state-level leaders, freshly awarded $300 million in federal Preschool Development Grants, develop their strategy for quality, they can consider adding direct assessment into the mix. Direct assessments in early childhood have the strongest predictive relationship to later achievement (National Research Council, 2008). Moreover, recent advances in assessment and game-based technology make it possible for direct assessment to span whole child development, be developmentally appropriate, and be easy to implement for teachers. Most importantly, having access to direct assessment data for early learners will enable state-level leaders to more strategically support school readiness, helping every young learner reach their full potential.

In 2023, the NC Child Care Commission approved Cognitive ToyBox as a stand-alone assessment provider in NC for birth through four-year-old classrooms. Cognitive Toybox’s observation-based tools are approved for birth to three. Its observation and game-based tools are approved for 3 and four-year-olds. 

 About the author: Dr. Tammy Kwan is the CEO of Cognitive ToyBox, a company she co-founded in 2015. Tammy is the driving force behind her organization’s partnerships with leading researchers, receiving support from funders including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, and the Mebane Foundation in NC. The company’s flagship product – a combination observational and game-based early childhood assessment – supports some of the largest school districts in the country, including Los Angeles Unified. Tammy holds an EdD and MBA from New York University and a BA in Psychology from Stanford University.

Additional Resources 

Kindergarten Readiness Showing Promising Gains in Davie County

By Jeanna Baxter White

Kindergarten readiness in Davie County has already shown tremendous gains in just the first two years of DavieLEADS, according to a report by Davie County Schools.

DIAL-4 Kindergarten Readiness Data — Davie County, North Carolina

Funded by a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, DavieLEADS (Literacy Empowers All in Davie to Succeed) is an early learning and literacy initiative with two major goals. The first is to increase kindergarten readiness to 90 percent by reaching and fostering the development of children at an early age (birth to kindergarten) through consistent curriculum, instruction, and experiences in preschool programs. The second goal is to increase the percentage of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade to 80 percent by building capacity in staff, strengthening instructional strategies, and updating materials aligned with state standards K-3.

Davie County Schools measures kindergarten readiness with the Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning-Fourth Edition (DIAL-4), an individually administered, nationally-normed, developmentally appropriate screening tool designed to identify young children who are at-risk and need help with academic skills. The DIAL-4 tests a child’s motor skills (skipping, jumping, cutting, writing), conceptual skills (knowledge of colors, counting), and language skills (knowledge of letters and words, and ability to solve problems). The skills measured by the DIAL-4 are proven to help predict a child’s readiness and future success in the classroom.

DIAL screening is completed as part of the kindergarten registration process, which begins in the spring prior to enrollment. The table below shows a comparison of DIAL data from 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19. While reaching and assessing more students each year (1 percent more in 2018-19, but 9 percent more since initial implementation), there has also been an increase in the percentage demonstrating readiness for kindergarten. There was a 6 percent increase in kindergarten readiness in the second year of DavieLEADS implementation, which represents an overall increase of 15 percent in readiness since the initiative began.

Table – DIAL-4 Kindergarten Readiness Data

% of Kindergarten Students Screened % of Screened Students “Kindergarten Ready”
2016-17 75% 71%
2017-18 83% 80%
2018-19 84% 86%
Change Year 1 to Year 2 +1% +6%
Change Since Implementation +9% +15%


“Continuing to see growth as our efforts increase to support and provide resources from the public schools speak volumes to our collaboration with the private providers in early education and interventions,” said Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services for Davie County.  “We would not see this type of climb without this grant from the Mebane Foundation which allows the early childhood community to teach the same curriculum and use the same assessments that guide our practices daily.”

Nuckolls and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County, shared the strategies they believe account for this growth.

First and foremost has been the sharing of a county-wide common language about what kindergarten readiness means.

“What we mean by common language about kindergarten readiness is that all of the people supporting preschool students have a common understanding of precisely what skills students need instruction on in preschool to help them have a successful introduction to kindergarten,” said Nelson. “Having a common kindergarten readiness language based on the NC Foundations for Early Learning and Development helps keep the focus on developmental facts rather than feeling like anyone’s personal knowledge of young children is being challenged.”

Another strategy through DavieLEADS has been to support more consistency in curriculum and instruction across all preschool programs, public school-based, private, and faith-based.

“Coordinating the curriculum between private and public preschools ensures the same high-quality instruction no matter the preschool setting,” said Nelson.

Letterland, a phonics-based program that teaches students how to read, write, and spell, has become one such program. Letterland is a well-established program for students from preschool to 2nd grade, with a carefully constructed curriculum for children at each grade level. The program has friendly ‘pictogram’ characters based on different letters that live together in Letterland. Stories featuring the letter characters explain phonics to children in a way that’s more entertaining than your typical lesson and thus sticks in the minds of students.

From 2016-2018, the Mebane Foundation provided Letterland materials, software, and professional development for NC Pre-K to 2nd-grade classrooms in Davie County. Faith-based programs received the materials, software, and training during the 2018-2019 school year.

Additionally, using Letterland across the board provides all of the preschool students with the same frame of reference and eases their transition into kindergarten because they are already familiar with the Letterland characters.

“Thanks to Mebane grant funds, we have also been able to provide Teaching Strategies GOLD® as a unified tool to measure student progress in NC Pre-K preschool programs that did not have prior access,” said Nuckolls.

The Teaching Strategies GOLD® provides a continuum for student learning and is aligned with North Carolina’s Early Learning Standards. GOLD is an ongoing observational system that allows preschool staff to assess students’ growth. This system also helps teachers increase the effectiveness of their lessons as they identify children’s developmental levels and describe their knowledge, skills, and behaviors.

The table below shows the six areas that are assessed and percentages of students meeting/exceeding growth expectations in public versus private preschools in years 1 and 2 of implementation. This provides yet another data source that can be studied in subsequent years of the DavieLEADS initiative.

Table – PreK GOLD Assessments


Domains Assessed

Private Public
17-18 18-19   17-18 18-19
Social 72% 78% 97% 95%
Physical 79% 82% 97% 100%
Language 77% 81% 90% 100%
Cognitive 81% 84% 84% 89%
Literacy 79% 88% 96% 100%
Mathematics 81% 88% 93% 95%

As an additional assessment tool, Nuckolls and Nelson chose to pilot Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based assessment platform to measure school readiness. Their goal was to increase the reliability of student assessments across the county.

Cognitive ToyBox enables a direct assessment of early language, literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs.

“Through Cognitive ToyBox, we have an unprecedented level of individualized data across language and literacy, math and social-emotional development that we can use to improve instruction and individualization on an ongoing basis,” said Nuckolls.

Sherri Robinson, Pre-K teacher at Hillsdale Baptist Preschool watches as Stephanie Nelson, DCS preschool collaborative teacher in Peter Puppy Letterland costume engages students

However, both Nuckolls and Nelson believe that intensive coaching and consistent support have produced the greatest impact on scores, and Nelson’s services have provided the secret sauce.

She was hired through grant funds to build relationships with the various child care programs in the county and to provide coaching services and support to the teachers as they learn to use the new curriculum and assessment tools provided by the grant.

“For teachers, knowing that someone is coming in on a consistent basis and caring about what you do makes a huge difference in how you plan and prepare,” said Nuckolls. “Without the support, the modeling, and the checking in to make sure the fidelity is there and continues, the resources mean nothing.”

“It’s hard for administrators to consistently provide coaching and support for new curriculum when they have so many business aspects to take care of in the running of a child care program. It is very important to have a collaborative teacher in the facility working weekly and monthly with those teachers answering questions and helping them fine-tune the use of resources throughout their classrooms in all aspects of their schedule.”

During Year 2, Nelson worked with 12 licensed and unlicensed pre-K childcare centers, including seven faith-based programs, one Head Start, and four private child care programs, and provided:

  • 100 coaching visits with private NC pre-K programs that fostered consistent and aligned curriculum.
  • 28 coaching visits for Letterland implementation and literacy awareness of state standards for 3 & 4-year-olds in faith-based programs to build common K readiness language across the community.
  • 2 collaborative trainings with Smart Start (30 participants)
  • 14 leadership trainings for licensed and non-licensed directors
  • 4 collaborative PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) with public and private teachers to encourage professional dialogue and sharing of preschool information and to support teachers by creating a community of adult learners.
  • 1 Cognitive Toy Box training and monthly support
  • 6 adult learning tours for preschool teachers and directors
  • 10 student and teacher field trips for all rising kindergarten children

Nelson said her efforts have been well-received. “There has been great buy-in. Both the teachers and directors have been invested collaborators. They’ve wanted this support. When I work with teachers, I make sure my coaching is individualized to their needs and I use their strengths to support an area they want to improve upon.”

Nelson has also provided teachers with training and support on how to nurture a student’s social-emotional education. “We know that part of preparing children for kindergarten is helping them to improve their self-regulation, their attention to tasks, and their ability to participate in a group setting. All are key factors to their success in kindergarten.”

“This year we are also focusing on supporting directors in becoming curriculum leaders so that they can maintain the momentum post-grant,” Nelson continued. “I’m meeting with them monthly and helping them learn how to access the new data, dig deeper into the data, and utilize that data to make a plan for supporting their teachers.”

“Our child care providers have always done a good job at meeting regulatory standards. We’ve focused on creating that common language of how we can meet child care regulations yet still add some structure and some meat to the curriculum so that students are ready for the structure that they’re going to be hit with in kindergarten.”

Adult learning tours for preschool teachers and directors to visit kindergarten classrooms and talk to kindergarten teachers have been eye-opening. “Kindergarten expectations have changed so much in the past 5 to 10 years. I think one of the best things that have come out of the tours was for the preschool teachers to hear the kindergarten teachers say ‘you’re doing a great job. The children we get from your program are coming in and have a lot of the skills we need them to have.’”

“When you are teaching by yourself because your child care center only has one four-year-old class you’re kind of working in a vacuum and hoping you’re making good choices, but you don’t have anybody to validate that or to make recommendations.”

To reinforce the teachers’ new-found confidence and to expand dialogue across the county, Nelson established a county-wide PLC group last May. This year the group hit the ground running.

“We have invited any teacher anywhere in the community that teaches three or four-year-olds to get involved because we want to encourage that professional conversation. So many of our classrooms in the county are blended, so including our three-year-old teachers facilitates talks about vertical alignment of curriculum.”

“We’ve got faith-based and private child care and public school teachers involved and it’s been a great success so far with about 15 people attending each meeting. We’ve also created an online platform that any teacher can access where we’ve uploaded the PLC agenda, the PLC minutes, and any other information or helpful hints or ideas that teachers share with each other.”

“For example, one month we had a whole conversation about how to creatively engage students and group time activities to keep their bodies and brains moving. We had teachers share different songs and different activities that they like to do and so we uploaded samples of that to this platform. Even if you can’t attend, you can still go on to the platform and be connected.”

“Meetings are hosted by a different childcare center or teacher each month. That was an idea that the teachers came up with. This is teacher-led and they are in charge of it. They came up with the idea as a way to see what others are doing in their classrooms and why. It’s been exciting to see them take ownership of their professional development.” Nelson added.

Nuckolls and Nelson are pleased that the momentum is continuing to grow.

“I had two teachers from two totally different programs get together and do some planning and some ideas sharing on a teacher workday,” Nelson shared with a smile. “To me, that was a huge sign of success.”

Cognitive ToyBox – Achieving Early Literacy in Davie County

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Colt Sexton completes an assessment with Cognitive ToyBox

By Jeanna Baxter White

Davie County Schools is continuing to make strides in addressing key challenges to kindergarten readiness. Through DavieLEADS, a partnership with the Mebane Foundation, Davie County Schools has had the unique opportunity to pilot solutions that can move the needle in early childhood education.

From the outset, Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool services, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher, identified the need for better assessment tools. In seeking an assessment tool that was less subjective and more objective, they chose to pilot Cognitive ToyBox, a game-based assessment platform to measure school readiness. Their goal was to increase the reliability of student assessments across the county.  Now in their second year of using the tool, both administrators and teachers have found it to be effective in addressing their assessment needs.

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Alan Reyes works with Cognitive ToyBox

“Through Cognitive ToyBox, we have an unprecedented level of individualized data across language and literacy, math and social-emotional development that we can use to improve instruction and individualization on an ongoing basis,” said Nuckolls.

Cognitive ToyBox enables direct assessment of early language, literacy, math, and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs. For the 2018-2019 school year, the goal was to familiarize teachers with the data-driven instructional planning opportunities available through using this assessment data.

Central Davie PreSchool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Central Davie preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Key to this model was the strong collaboration between Nelson and the school system’s NC Pre-K teachers. Nelson also coached a subset of NC Pre-K teachers located in childcare programs. They discussed how to review and use their assessment data to differentiate learning opportunities based on children’s progress.

“Throughout the course of the year, teachers became more comfortable with using the reports on their own to make decisions on small group instruction on a weekly basis,” shared Nelson.

“I really enjoy using Cognitive ToyBox in my classroom with my students,” said Felicia McClamrock, who teaches NC Pre-K at Central Davie and was one of the three DCS teachers who piloted the program last year. “It is a great program for our children, and they enjoy using it. It is also easy for them to use. The program helps me know what level my students are on, what they know, and what they need to work on. It helps me to know who needs more individual attention in certain areas, and I learned that some of the students that I thought had mastered certain skills were the ones that needed the extra help.”

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

Felicia McClamrock, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie Preschool watches as preschool student Serenity Rose works with Cognitive ToyBox

“I like that it is aligned with what I am teaching and it helps me spend less time doing assessments, and I can use the data from the assessments and get exactly what I need for meetings, report cards and teaching in the classroom,” McClamrock added.

The time-savings stems from a reduction in typing and paperwork. Traditionally, teachers would need to write notes on each child and then type them into a digital system after class. Cognitive ToyBox’s game-based assessments automate that process by automatically collecting the data and organizing it into reports and recommendations for teachers.

In addition to the time she saves using the assessments, Josey Redinger, who teaches at Central Davie and was part of the pilot program, also appreciates the teacher-led portion of the platform. “It allows me to reinforce concepts again and again.”

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as pre-k student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Josey Redinger, NC Pre-K teacher at Central Davie preschool watches as preschool student Zakoiya Summers works with Cognitive ToyBox

Meredith Koeval, NC Pre-K teacher at Shady Grove Elementary, agrees that Cognitive ToyBox has the potential to be a good tool for assessments and said she appreciates that it keeps data all in one place and tends to be faster than her own teacher-created assessments. “This tool helps me keep more data on students throughout the year so I can track their progress better. Sometimes, though, I can tell children are just randomly guessing when they complete the independent portion of the game, which does not lead to an accurate assessment. When I am working hands on doing the teacher-led portion, I do not have that issue.”

Administrators also found value from the platform. “We have had some differentiation of instruction challenges in the past year, and the Cognitive ToyBox reports helped us to keep abreast of progress towards our school readiness goals,” said Nuckolls.

The data has also enabled the DCS team to improve their instruction at the program level. “The data has been valuable in conversations with teachers about student growth, state standards, and assessment practices,” said Nelson.

In preparation for Year 3 of DavieLEADS, district leaders are looking into ways to ease the transition for students between preschool and kindergarten. Cognitive ToyBox data is being incorporated into other student assessment data that will be shared with kindergarten teachers over the summer. Kindergarten teachers can then use the reports and recommendations to get a head start in planning for the upcoming year.

“We could not have asked for a better partner than DCS,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox. “Thanks to their ongoing feedback over the past two years, Cognitive ToyBox has been considerably improved, not only for NC Pre-K providers but for all early childhood education providers.”

Cognitive ToyBox – Data-Based Assessment Tool to Accelerate Progress in Early Childhood Literacy

By Jeanna Baxter White
Assessment of child progress, a National Association for the Education of Young Children program standard,  helps teachers to improve their teaching and enhances student learning. Currently, observation-based assessment is the most common assessment approach in Head Start and state-funded Pre-K programs. However, it is also time-consuming for teachers, who spend 
four to six hours per week writing notes on student development, transcribing the notes into a digital form, and then scanning for patterns to guide instruction.

Three pre-school teachers from the Davie County School system in Mocksville, NC were among the first to evaluate the efficacy of a new assessment system through a pilot program during the spring of 2018.

The pilot partner, Cognitive ToyBox, developed a research-backed, game-based platform that enables direct assessment of early language, literacy, math and social-emotional skills. Using a touchscreen device, students play one assessment game per week for an average of five minutes, and teachers have access to NC standards-aligned reports that support them in planning for instruction and for supporting individual student needs.

Data-Based Assessments – Accurate, Consistent & Actionable
“By making data collection easier and enabling teachers to utilize the data in real-time to drive instructional adjustments, we can help teachers focus on the things that matter most for a child’s success: high-quality interactions between teachers and their students,” said Tammy Kwan, the co-founder, and CEO of Cognitive ToyBox.

Ideally, CTB Assess will become a valuable tool in achieving the goals of DavieLEADS, the school system’s five-year early literacy initiative aimed at improving kindergarten readiness and increasing the percentage of students
reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

DavieLEADS is funded through a $2.5 million grant from the Mebane Foundation, which also brought the two organizations together. The Foundation supports collaborations and partnerships among educational professionals, business leaders, elected officials, and the community that help ensure that children have the opportunity to reach their highest potential.

Mebane Partnership with 4.0 Schools Continues to Pay Dividends
Foundation President, Larry Colbourne, learned about Cognitive ToyBox through a grant to New Orleans-based 
4.0 Schools, a non-profit incubator that finds, trains, and invests in passionate people solving the most critical challenges in education. He recognized its applicability to the preschool portion of DavieLEADS which has ultimately led to a serendipitous partnership between two programs the Mebane Foundation supports.

“The goal of funding 4.0 Schools was to gain access to great educational thinkers across the country,” Colbourne said. “We hoped to find entrepreneurs with ideas that align with our mission and we believe we have done so with Tammy (Kwan) and Cognitive ToyBox.”

Colbourne shared the program with Peggy Nuckolls, director of preschool programs for Davie County Schools, and Stephanie Nelson, preschool collaborative teacher for Davie County Schools.

Standards Aligned Data by Student, Class, and District
Both Nuckolls and Nelson quickly recognized CTB Assess’s potential for creating consistency and increasing reliability in assessments throughout the county’s public and private NC Pre-K classrooms, particularly since it aligns with the standards used by preschool teachers across all settings.

“We saw its value as a universal and less subjective measurement tool that could truly focus on the child’s ability versus what the teacher thinks the child can or cannot do, erasing any potential bias,” Nuckolls said.

“Data can be pulled by student, class or district. This is helpful for administrators as well as teachers who can take student data and sort children by skill mastery which aids in putting children together in small groups to focus on different skills and objectives. After talking with Tammy (Kwan), we decided to give the platform a try.”   

During the pilot, the school system met with Kwan each month to provide feedback on what worked about the platform, and what could be improved to better support their program.

“Participating in the pilot program has been great,” said Nelson. “Tammy has continuously asked, ‘What do we need to tweak? What do we need to change? How can we make it better? She isn’t afraid to make changes.’”

Tam Hudson, Felicia Myers, and Josey Redinger, who used the platform in their classrooms for three months, found the platform user-friendly and appreciated the additional data.

“My Kids Love Cognitive ToyBox” – Engaging and Interactive
“My kids loved Cognitive ToyBox,” said Redinger. “It was engaging and interactive. It provided an opportunity to work on their own at their own pace and also an opportunity to work alone with me. I enjoyed it for the same reasons. I also like how the reports gave me some insight into their abilities and helped me to group them in learning activities!  This also helped me to complete student assessments for GOLD checkpoints.”

Hudson said, “By looking at the results, I was able to use the information to lead my teaching in large group and small group instruction. It is a quick picture that gives me a clear idea on what areas a child may need extra time with us to master a skill/task. My students loved it. They thought of it as a game!”

Both teachers found that the platform’s leveling of students across language, literacy, and math reflected their own understanding of students levels.

Their evaluations correlated with the other anecdotal assessments received by Kwan who said that one pilot teacher shared that in observing four to six children in math at a time, she sometimes “missed kids.” In comparison, Cognitive ToyBox gives her access to “super individualized” data on how each child is doing. Moreover, several teachers shared that having an additional source of data was incredibly valuable. In one case, a teacher had assumed that a child who was behind in language was also behind in shape recognition. Through the platform, she was surprised to learn that the child had mastered all of her shapes. In another case, the platform provided an additional data point for the instructional team to use to recommend that a child be screened for a language delay.

Cognitive ToyBox Expanding to All Public and Private Davie County Preschools for 2018-19 School Year
Pleased with the overall results of the pilot, Nuckolls is looking forward to introducing the CTB Assess platform to all of the NC Pre-K classrooms, both public and private, across the county this fall. An
$18,000 grant from the Mebane Foundation will provide both the software and the technology needed to support it.

“It is our goal to support and invest in our teachers,” Nuckolls said. “This platform will help them to become better at what they are already doing and more consistent in our assessments across the county. This platform will take out subjectivity and allow for more reliable measurements. The implementation of this project will allow us to walk closer to our goals in DavieLEADS.”    

“It’s been wonderful having Larry (Colbourne) as part of the continuous growth for the LEADS program,” she added.  “As a funder, he isn’t just handing out money, but is invested in the true measurement of what we are trying to build which speaks volumes.”

Although delighted with the response so far, Kwan said Cognitive ToyBox is continuing to refine the technology to ensure that it is the most beneficial assessment platform available. “We aim to show that classrooms that use our platform are better supported through data, leading to improved school readiness and third-grade reading rates.”