Early Childhood

New Report Concludes School-Readiness Data Need More Attention

By Linda Jacobson — February 23, 2005 3 min read
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Indicators of children’s readiness for school are useful only when there are advocates and educators who care enough to improve those measures over time, concludes a report released last week from a 17-state group.

The participating states banded together in 2001 to track measures that contribute to children’s success in school.

“Getting Ready: Findings from the National School Readiness Indicators Initiative” is available online.

After three years of work, the states also found that in order to be meaningful, indicators—such as the percentage of children under 6 without health insurance, or the percentage of children recognizing basic shapes when they enter kindergarten—need to be communicated to policymakers and the public.

“It’s so important that we take action well before a child enters kindergarten,” Elizabeth Burke Bryant, the coordinator of the indicators project, said during a telephone news conference last week. “Far too many young children enter school with deficits that could have been minimized through early intervention.”

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Table: Getting Ready for School

Ms. Bryant, who is also the executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, a child-policy organization, added that the initiative was launched to remedy a “data gap” between the infant years—when information is readily available for such vital statistics as low birthweight—and 4th grade, when reading scores are widely available.

The project, which Ms. Bryant hopes will eventually turn into a 50-state initiative, will help fill that void, she said.

During tight economic times, such information, she said, can also help state lawmakers set priorities for their spending when they see which issues in their states need the most attention.

Emerging Indicators

The indicators of readiness, which focus on birth through age 8 and represent the different facets of child development, are organized into six categories: children, families, communities, health services, early care and education services, and schools.

Partners in the project reviewed research and consulted child-development experts to develop the list of indicators.

“I’m terribly impressed that 17 states could reach consensus,” said Ross Thompson, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, who spoke at the news conference and has been involved in school-readiness work in his state that is not part of the initiative.

Five national organizations provided guidance for the project: the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Education Commission of the States, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Also included in the report are “emerging” indicators, such as the percentage of children growing up in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, and the percentage of children who have hearing or vision problems when they enter school—a statistic that researchers believe may play an important role in children’s future success in school.

Lessons Learned

The information that’s collected, however, shouldn’t be used to “grade” policymakers’ efforts to improve the targeted areas, the report says, because when indicators are used as scorecards they have little impact. Instead, legislators and other leaders should be included in developing indicators and setting the priorities, the authors recommend.

“Annual monitoring of key school-readiness indicators can signal if things are moving in the right direction—and if they are not,” the report says. “Measuring progress over time can lead to more informed decisions about programs, policies, and investments.”

The partnership also learned other lessons, including the need for children entering school to have literacy as well as social and emotional skills, not just one or the other.

Surveys of kindergarten teachers helped influence the teams from each state when they were deciding what indicators to include, Mr. Thompson said. He added that teachers often list self-confidence, the ability to cooperate, and self-control among the skills needed to do well in kindergarten.

“They talk about these factors much more than they talk about children knowing their letters and numbers,” he said.

Three foundations, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, Calif., the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., and the Ford Foundation in New York City, donated a total of about $2 million to support the initiative.

The states participating in the initiative are: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as New Report Concludes School-Readiness Data Need More Attention

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