kids in kindergarten

What is Kindergarten Ready, Really?

Once upon a time, children walked into kindergarten as blank slates for their teachers to write upon. They might or might not know their ABC’s, how to hold a pencil and how to read. Now, though, it seems that more and more is being asked of students before they are ever even taught in school. Children are entering school already behind. So what is “kindergarten ready”, really? What does it mean?
Students who are kindergarten ready are more than three times as likely to be reading on grade level in third grade, thus making kindergarten readiness a huge indicator of outcomes for students. In Texas, a child is eligible to start kindergarten if they have turned five years old prior to September 1 of the school year they would be enrolling in. Other states have a later cutoff, but generally speaking, most students begin kindergarten at around five years old. It’s assumed that students will enter school with some specific skills; however, there is no specific list of kindergarten-ready standards.
According to research compiled into a policy brief from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEE), teachers cite factors such as overall child health, ability to communicate thoughts and needs as well as curiosity as important factors indicating kindergarten readiness. Recently, teachers are emphasizing the importance of nonacademic readiness skills over traditional measures of readiness like knowing names of colors, recognizing the alphabet and counting. However, NIEE acknowledges that studies indicate a higher focus on academic readiness in studies focusing on perceptions of low-income children. Parent perception of skills needed to be kindergarten ready also varies based on socioeconomic status but tends to focus on academics.
From 2001-2004, the School Readiness Indicators Initiative joined 17 states to try to develop a workable list of readiness factors to include in policy proposals. Maryland has created the R4K— Ready for Kindergarten, a comprehensive early childhood assessment system that builds upon the state assessment system used until 2013. In Texas, Little Texans, Big Futures drew on expertise across the state to set early learning goals. The American Federation of Teachers offers a kindergarten ready checklist online that draws on factors that some states utilize to assess incoming students. Still, without a tailored list of what skills a school is expecting, a parent is challenged with how to best prepare their child for school. Additionally, according to NIEE’s policy brief, “children from low-income or less-educated families are less likely to have the supports necessary for healthy growth and development, resulting in lower abilities at school entry.”
The biggest challenge, though, is that no one system exists that defines what kindergarten readiness is. Each state may or may not define readiness; sometimes readiness is defined differently at different schools in the same city. A national standard of readiness would assist both preschools and parents in preparing students to meet the challenges they will face in today’s classrooms.
Is there a written kindergarten ready standard where you live? Drop us a note in the comments, and tune back in as we discuss whether or not pre-K matters.
About the Author

Ellen Miller

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