SHIRLEY -- Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Special Education coordinator Teri Babetski, Page Hilltop Elementary School Vice Principal Karen DeWitt, and Lura A. White Elementary School Principal Patricia Fitzgerald approached the school committee June 19 to ask that the 2013-2014 schedule for kindergartners be pushed back a week, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 4.

The reason, said Babetski, was the state's successful application for the Race to the Top -- Early Learning Challenge grant (RTT-ELC).

The entire project, for which Massachusetts was one of nine successful applicants, is centered on how prepared children are for kindergarten, Babetski said. That includes providing assessment tools to identify areas of need, drive instruction and give parents a "whole child" reporting system so they can see how their children are doing throughout the year.

Babetski said that as part of Cohort 2 of the grant, the district could save money by having Wheelock College provide two days of training when staff members are already on site during their first week back to school.

The proposed change in school schedule would apply only to kindergarten, and was made with input from the school principals, Babetski stated.

The first two days of the school schedule, beginning on Aug. 26, were already slated for professional development and kindergarten orientation, she said. The first day of kindergarten would have started on Aug. 29.

"The 28th and 29th, the paras are going to the training in the LAW computer lab," said Babetski. "The day after Labor Day (Sept. 3) would be the orientation day, with the first full-day for kindergarten on Wednesday, Sept. 4."

The schedule still exceeds the 180 school-day requirement, and the state allows schools to design a different calendar for kindergarten, Babetski explained. "Kindergarten will get the 425 (required) hours in, so it doesn't have an impact."

Ayer-Shirley invited to take part

According to a February 2013 update from the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC), the EEC and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) are collaborating with educators across the commonwealth to align education systems from birth through third grade. Last September, Ayer-Shirley was one of many districts invited to participate in an initiative to support that alignment -- the Massachusetts Kindergarten Entry Assessment (MKEA) system.

According to the EEC, use of a formative assessment tool during the kindergarten year is intended to give teachers individual child-level information across all domains that can be shared with parents and support teachers by informing classroom instruction.

It would also assist school districts in fortifying the existing alignment of early childhood education and elementary school, and help state and local education policymakers identify trends and resource needs.

The Center for Assessment and Screening Excellence (CASE) at Wheelock College's Aspire Institute is offering two-day training sessions through the fall of 2013 for use with the district's chosen assessment tool, Teaching Strategies GOLD.

Babetski said that the funding for the training comes from RTT-ELC, not the state, and that the assessment tool supports a "for now, free of charge" online account for each kindergartner coming into the district.

Following the training, the kindergarten teachers will conduct student assessments over a six-week period toward the beginning of the school year and report their assessment results via the online component of Teaching Strategies GOLD by the end of October 2013. The following spring, the teachers will again perform assessments and report them online by the end of the 2013-2014 school year.

The School Committee unanimously approved the change in schedule, and asked that Babetski return mid-year to provide it with an update on the assessment program.