bog 2.26 (2)On the first day of Kindergarten, students arrive with backpacks full of crayons, scissors, and glue.  These tools will help them express creativity, develop social skills, and begin learning the basics of “the 3 Rs” – all key to helping kids succeed in school. But more important than school supplies, students also bring with them different skills.  Those skills, acquired during children’s earliest years, are fundamental to ensuring students are able to flourish in Kindergarten and succeed in later grades. If a child has not been adequately prepared for Kindergarten by their family, early care providers, and community, they spend the school year piecing together the foundational skills necessary for future learning, instead of building upon them.

To gauge how prepared incoming kindergarteners are to enter school ready to engage in and benefit from school, the Kentucky Department of Education implemented statewide a Kindergarten Readiness Screener at the beginning of School Year 2013/14. The first year of data for all Kentucky public school districts, released last month, shows just under half (49.0 percent) of kindergarteners were deemed prepared for Kindergarten work. Children in families with low incomes are less likely to enter school well-prepared for success due to limited access to high quality child care, early education, and health care; greater demands on parental attention; and more stressful family and neighborhood circumstances. Only 37.6 percent of low-income kindergarteners met the readiness standards.

Because African American and Hispanic families have disproportionately lower incomes (due to embedded racial inequities), many children of color are at a greater risk than their White counterparts of entering school without sufficient preparation. Less than a third (28.0 percent) of Kentucky’s Hispanic Kindergarteners were sufficiently prepared. While immigrants only constitute a portion of the Hispanic population, research finding children in immigrant families are less likely to participate in early childhood center-based and preschool programs, due to structural barriers like poverty and language barriers, could help explain this low rate of Kindergarten preparedness.

Incoming kindergarteners had significantly different rates of preparedness across school districts. Of the 173 school districts, only 11 had two-thirds or more of kindergarteners sufficiently prepared to learn, while 20 districts had less than one-third prepared.

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The data also break out readiness results by the incoming kindergarteners’ prior early learning setting. Children whose prior setting was categorized as “home” were less likely to be sufficiently prepared (37.4 percent) than children coming from child care centers, public preschool, or Head Start programs.  The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood publishes guidebooks to help parents identify the skills children should ideally master before Kindergarten and help their children learn and develop those skills. Families, formal and informal early care providers, publicly-funded and private preschools, school districts, and the larger community all play various roles in preparing young ones for school.

If you agree that all children deserve a strong start and a fair shot at educational success, here are 3 simple ways to begin making a difference for Kentucky’s youngest children:

1) Find out the level of Kindergarten preparedness for your community at the KIDS COUNT Data Center. Is it better or worse than your neighboring communities? Perhaps there are opportunities to learn from each other.

2) Check out these ideas for how you as a parent, educator, or community member can contribute toward improving school readiness.

3) Contact the Community Early Childhood Council in your county to find out how you can help advance the work of addressing the unique early childhood needs of your community.