BALTIMORE – More Maryland children are better prepared for kindergarten than in previous years, according to a report released Wednesday by the Maryland State Department of Education.
The report, presented at the State Board of Education meeting, showed that 58 percent of children entering kindergarten are fully ready to learn, which is an increase of 3 percentage points from the 2003-2004 school year and a 9 percentage point increase from when the school readiness surveys first began in the 2001-2002 school year.
“The glass is definitely half full,” said J. Michael Riley, vice-president of M&T Bank and chairman of the Ready-at-Five Partnership. “We expect the glass to become fuller.”
His partnership is one of many groups that reach out to parents to inform them about the importance of educating children before they reach kindergarten.
The National Research Council has shown that 90 percent of brain growth occurs between ages 0 and 5, yet 90 percent of public spending on education occurs after age 5.
The partnership encourages parents and child care providers to include learning activities in daily routines.
“We’re making steady, even progress,” Riley said.
Students are measured on seven skills – social and personal development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts and physical development and health.
Kindergarten teachers observe their students in 30 performance indicators and take note of their learning rate and level of competency. The information from the assessments is used by schools and districts to help design programs, materials and teacher training.
The results are divided into subgroups, such as race, children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and children with disabilities. While most of these subgroups showed improvement, there is gap between the percentage of prepared children in these groups to the overall school readiness percentage.
Black children improved their readiness by 6 percentage points from 44 percent to 50 percent, while children with disabilities improved by 2 percentage points overall to 37 percent. The composite results for children speaking languages other than English dropped by 3 percentage points from 40 percent to 37 percent. Hispanics had the lowest composite score of the racial groups with only 43 percent entering kindergarten ready to learn.
The survey also gauged the effectiveness of early learning situations, including Head Start, pre-kindergarten, family child care, non-public nurseries or informal care.
The survey found 60 percent of students in pre-kindergarten; 54 percent of family care children, and 73 percent of children at non-public nursery schools came to kindergarten prepared.
Board members discussed closing readiness gaps, especially by informing more Hispanics about learning opportunities for children under age 5.
State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick said cultural differences could be at work in Hispanic children’s lower percentage of readiness. Many Hispanics, she said, prefer child care by relatives and do not have as much contact with early education.
“We’re going to try to work with the Hispanic population,” Grasmick said.
She said many blacks benefit from the Head Start Program, with 47 percent of those children coming to school ready to learn, an increase of 2 percentage points from last year.
In 2001, The Maryland State Board of Education incorporated a school readiness goal in its strategic plan and began issuing the school readiness reports in 2001-2002 school year.
The goal of the board is to annually improve on the number of students ready for school, said Bill Reinhard, board spokesman.
“This is exciting,” said Grasmick, about the report. “We have tangible results.” -30-