Lgirlast week, Governor Beshear announced the results of the Brigance Kindergarten Readiness Screener, which showed that 50 percent of incoming Kindergarteners entered school prepared to learn last fall. That’s a slight improvement from last year’s result of 49 percent and suggests good news for the Commonwealth. We hope this means we are moving in the right direction.

Why does it matter? Kindergarten readiness scores are a great tool to help answer the question of how we as a state serving our children in those critical early years, from ages 0-5. We know from decades of research that strong early learning experiences provide a foundation for success in later childhood and adulthood. We also know that the greatest returns on investment for building human capital come from quality early childhood services. If we want to remain competitive in the global marketplace of goods and ideas, we need all children to reach their full potential.

With that goal in mind, here are some key takeaways from the scores.

  1. The early years are the most critical time to close achievement gaps. – Disparities in outcomes in the early years can have significant and long-lasting impacts on children’s development that can widen over time. The data show that for some groups of Kentucky Kindergarteners, a great majority are starting off unprepared and will continue to suffer the consequences. For instance, only 28.7 percent of Hispanic children and children with limited English proficiency, and only 27.6 percent of students with disabilities were Kindergarten-ready. Research suggests that boosting both the participation in and the quality of early childhood educational experiences could increase school readiness, especially for children of color.
  2. We need to increase quality and access to child care. – Currently, the state is looking to raise quality standards for child care centers that serve children who receive child care subsidies. The latest data show that Kindergarteners coming from child care centers are the most likely to be prepared – with almost 70 percent of children meeting the benchmark. We need to build on that strong preparation child care centers are providing, while also increasing the affordability of high quality child care for working parents. Raising eligibility for child care assistance to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level should be a top priority for the 2016 General Assembly.
  3. It takes a village. – As KYA’s executive director Terry Brooks cautioned in a recent Courier-Journal article, this data should not be seen as an excuse for underperforming schools. “When test scores come out in 2-3 years, I don’t want to hear, ‘Well, only half of kids were prepared.'” Superintendents should be talking to their local child care and Head Start providers and looking for ways to collaborate and pool resources to reach more children. And schools need to help kids get on track if and when they do come in unprepared. The Kindergarten Readiness data is a great tool for communities to use to start those discussions.

How did children in your community fare on the Kindergarten Readiness screener? Find out by visiting the KIDS COUNT Data Center here. For a more detailed breakdown, visit the Kentucky Department of Education’s website here.