A child's school readiness involves all aspects of development, including the ability to follow directions, hold a crayon, speak understandably, identify shapes/letters/numbers, share with others and separate from parents without being upset.
Why is This Important?
In order to fully benefit from the instruction provided in kindergarten, children must come to school with many fundamental skills already established. Years of research on child development and early learning show that several interrelated areas of development define school readiness: physical well-being and motor development, social and emotional development, child approaches to learning, language development, and cognition and general knowledge. These areas of development are important, build on one another, and form the foundation of learning and social interaction.
How is Virginia Doing?
While no single "readiness" assessment is widely used for all aspects of development, Virginia does have a screening tool to identify students who are at risk for reading difficulties. The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening for Kindergarten (PALS-K) assessment instrument is a screening tool used by 131 school divisions in Virginia to identify students who are below kindergarten level expectations in important literacy fundamentals. Students identified below these grade level benchmarks are provided with additional instruction through Virginia's Early Intervention Reading Initiative (EIRI).
In fall 2004, 19.3 percent of all Virginia kindergarteners assessed using PALS-K were identified as needing additional instruction. The Commonwealth is divided for study purposes into eight regional superintendents' groups. Across these eight superintendents' regions, the rates of identification for additional instruction ranged from a low of 17.7 percent (region 5) to a high of 21.8 percent (region 3). Because the initial screening with PALS-K is conducted in the fall of the school year, these screening results reflect how well-prepared children come to school in terms of literacy fundamentals.
More comprehensive assessments of school readiness are used in some school divisions. The Work Sampling System is a research-based assessment that charts children's growth in personal and social development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts, and physical development and health. Because this assessment is not used in all school divisions, statewide data are not available.
What Influences School Readiness?
Many factors affect student readiness for school. Teen births, maternal education, prenatal care, low birth weight, children living in poverty and child abuse/neglect are major factors that can impact school readiness. High-quality preschool programs support school readiness: Longitudinal studies of high-quality early childhood programs find increased test scores, decreased rates of being held back a grade in school, and decreased placement in special education among low-income children. In the longer term, studies also find increased high school graduation and decreased crime and delinquency rates. Evidence shows that it is not only low-income students who may benefit from preschool. Nationwide, nearly half (49 percent) of children who enter kindergarten without the ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet are middle-income children. Twelve percent of middle-income children repeat a grade in school.
What is the State's Role?
Because most of the factors affecting school readiness are largely beyond the reach of the school system, the state's role is to act as a catalyst with local governments and community agencies to positively impact factors that influence school readiness, such as decreasing teen births, increasing maternal educational levels, enhancing prenatal care and decreasing levels of lead-based paint. The state also has a role in supporting intervention services such as Early Intervention programs for children from birth to three years, access to quality preschool, and child health insurance programs. In addition, through assessments like PALS-K, once the child enters school the state can assist in identifying students who are insufficiently prepared to enter the school system and can provide additional resources to meet the needs of those children.
Data Definitions and Sources
University of Virginia, Department of Curriculum, Instruction & Special Education, 2004