“I firmly believe that we can close the school readiness gap and prepare our children for college and careers through high-quality early learning experiences, but we have more work to do…”
Karen B. Salmon, Ph.D., State Superintendent of Schools
As a kindergarten teacher, I loved the first day of school. After weeks of stapling corrugated border around bulletin boards, stringing yarn through the holes of the new name tags, setting up beautiful and enticing learning centers, and organizing the critical tools for my students – new boxes of unbroken crayons with 24 dazzling colors, writer’s workshop books, pens and pencils, glue sticks, and rubber-handled scissors with no sharp edges – the day had finally arrived. The morning was crisp, and it was the earliest in the day I had seen over the past weeks of the long, endless – and now almost forgotten – summer. Everything smelled new and full of a million new opportunities. I greeted each child at the door and with them, waved goodbye to their parents, and considered each one's potential in the coming school year … in my room. Unfortunately, the starting line for each child varied widely because of their different life experiences leading up to that first day of kindergarten – serious differences that could mean some of them would never be able to keep pace or catch up.
Of the approximately 64,000 children that entered Maryland’s public kindergarten classrooms last year, only 43% had the foundational knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to succeed in school as determined by Maryland’s Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA). That means that more than half the kids did not have the minimum foundational skills and behaviors needed to be successful in kindergarten. More than half of them needed targeted supports or interventions to get them better prepared – both socially and academically – and on the path to high-school graduation, and on to college, and a career. The recently released PARCC data for Maryland reveals there is a high-correlation between how our students are doing in kindergarten and how they are doing in third grade. Unfortunately, by the third grade, they aren't doing much better. Last year, 40% of kindergarteners demonstrated readiness in language and literacy; 38.8% of third graders met or exceeded expectation on the standardized test. In math, third graders showed some growth, but still low: 38% demonstrated kindergarten readiness, and only 43% of third graders met or exceeded expectations.
Kindergarten Readiness and Birth Zip Code
According to last year’s Readiness Matters, percent of children demonstrating readiness varied widely by jurisdiction, from a low of 28% to a high of 63%. Large readiness gaps persisted for our most vulnerable children, especially English learners (25 points), children with disabilities (26 points), and children from low-income families (19 points). While over half of Asian and white kindergarteners demonstrated readiness, only 37% of African American and 27% of Hispanic children had the skills they need at the beginning of the year. “We must do better” – both in the early years and the early grades. We must address the needs of all our children before they enter kindergarten and all along the education pipeline.
One way to ensure mores children arrive at kindergarten with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful is to increase access to high-quality early education by “ensuring the adequacy and equity of funding for prekindergarten and other early childhood education programs . . ,” as is the charge by the Governor to the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education or Kirwan Commission. On or before December 31, 2017, the Commission will provide a final report of its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the State legislature. Ready At Five is hopeful that this will lead to Maryland moving towards voluntary, universal preschool of all our children.
High-Quality Preschool is Not an Inoculation
If we are to sustain the benefits of preschool, good early learning experiences must be followed by high-quality programs from kindergarten through third grade. A strategy that many schools deploy is the use of data. This fall, in half of Maryland’s jurisdictions, all students will be assessed across multiple domains of school readiness. The parents and teachers of students needing extra support to succeed will receive a report on that child's readiness, which can then be used to address individual needs. In twelve counties, however, only a sample of children will be assessed. We see this as an equity issue. All parents are entitled to information about their children’s skills when they enter kindergarten. Knowledge is power. All Maryland parents – and teachers – need access to every data tool possible to address this urgent crisis. What better way to engage parents as partners in their children’s learning and progress than to work together with the full knowledge of what children need to succeed in school. That leads to a great start of the school year!