Few States Track Children’s Readiness For School

Years of research point to the importance of developing the skills that children need to succeed in school and identifying the kindergartners who could have benefited from more learning opportunities before arriving. This is what kindergarten readiness assessments are all about. And yet while states have heeded the call to begin developing practices that support readiness, only a few are actually tracking readiness based on established statewide expectations.

According to a recent Child Trends brief, A Review of School Readiness Practices in the States: Early Learning Guidelines and Assessments, all 50 states and the District of Columbia have developed Early Learning Guidelines (ELGs) for children aged 3 to 5 that define what they should know and be able to do when they enter kindergarten.

 

But most early childhood education providers are not required to use them—they are voluntary for non-publicly funded programs. How can states encourage more adoption?

 

This is a question that the Child Trends brief attempts to answer. The result is a much-needed and helpful overview of state practice. It shows, for example, that only seven states administer a formal “school readiness assessment” to new kindergartners to track how many are, in fact, “ready” for kindergarten. Instead most states encourage the use of these tools to inform instruction and guide conversations about skills and abilities with parents, which is smart practice, but it would also be beneficial to use them to determine whether the skills and abilities states have identified as important are really the right ones and to gauge the effectiveness of pre-kindergarten programs in preparing children to transition into kindergarten.

 

The brief provides useful information on what states include in their Early Learning Guidelines and how they use – or don’t use – school readiness assessment.

 

Pertaining to the state guidelines (which could be defined as “standards”):

  • All 50 states and the District of Columbia have language and early literacy guidelines;
  • Forty-nine states have early math guidelines;
  • Forty-two states have creative arts guidelines;
  • Forty-eight states have social-emotional development guidelines;
  • Forty-six and the District of Columbia have early science guidelines;
  • Thirty-two include social studies guidelines; and
  • Twenty-four states have developed or are currently developing birth to age 3 ELGs.

What we don’t know is how these guidelines compare state to state and if they align with and lay the foundation for success in mastering states’ K-12 standards.

 

On school readiness assessment:

  • Seven states conduct school readiness assessments to monitor statewide levels of school readiness. (They are Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, and Vermont.);
  • Twenty-two states conduct the assessments to inform individualized instruction and to screen for developmental delays;
  • Fifteen states use or endorse the use of assessment of multiple developmental areas; and
  • Twelve states use or endorse the use of an assessment that focuses on math and/or literacy development.

Child Trends also identifies some important considerations for state school readiness practices. First, the brief notes that “Early learning guidelines and school readiness assessments that take a comprehensive or holistic view of child development will be most effective in supporting and measuring children’s school readiness.”

 

Second, the brief discusses the importance of aligning ELGs with K-12 standards. The leaders of the Common Core Standards Initiative have said they would like to create a set of birth-to-5 standards that would link to the K-12 standards unveiled earlier this month. This could be an important step toward creating a true cradle to career pipeline for student learning and success. One important question is whether common birth-to-5 standards, should they be developed, would be voluntary or required of states that elect to adopt the Common Core standards. Will they simply be separate stand-alone recommendations that might go unnoticed or will they be recognized as an important part of school readiness?

 

Third, Child Trends cautions about the challenges of assessing young children. It is important that the purpose of assessment is clearly defined and understood, that they are broad enough to provide an accurate picture of how prepared (academically, developmentally, socially, and emotionally) a child is for kindergarten.

 

And, finally the brief points out the importance of supportive families, schools, and communities. Ready schools ensure smooth transitions and ready communities have systems of support in place for children and their families.

 

We would add one more consideration about the importance of “ready” teachers – both in pre-kindergarten centers and in the early grades. How are pre-K educators trained and supported to ensure young children are ready for kindergarten? Are K-3rd teachers provided with enough professional development to understand how 5-, 6-, and 7-year-olds learn? How often do both of these sets of teachers interact or attend professional development sessions together to make sure what they are doing in the classroom is what is needed for a smooth transition to the early grades? How are they prepared to use assessment tools to drive instruction that meets the individual needs of their students?

 

Child Trends includes two important charts that list what states include in their Early Learning Guidelines and how they use readiness assessments. Check it all out here.

Author:

Laura Bornfreund is director of early & elementary education policy with the Education Policy program and co-director of the Family Centered Social Policy program at New America. She leads a team of writers and analysts working on new ideas for improving children’s birth-through-third grade learning experiences.