BALTIMORE – Slightly more Maryland children started kindergarten better prepared than last year, according to a report released Tuesday by the Maryland State Department of Education.
Sixty percent of last year’s kindergarten class was socially, mentally and behaviorally ready to start school, according to the Maryland School Readiness Information, an annual report. Last year, 58 percent of Maryland children qualified. The number of prepared children has increased 11 percent since the first report was published in 2002.
The results are based on teacher observations from the first several weeks of the school year. Teachers score students in seven areas: social and personal, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, arts and physical development and health. A student is considered “fully” ready if he or she receives a high total score.
State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said before the presentation to the State Board of Education that she believes Maryland is the only state in the country that conducts this type of evaluation.
“The cohort of kindergarten children that started school in 2005 – 2006 is better prepared than any other cohort that we have had since we started this project in 2001 – 2002. There [are], however, a number of sub-stories,” said Rolf H. Grafwallner, assistant state superintendent of the Division of Early Childhood Development
One of these “sub-stories” is the difference between jurisdictions. For instance, Baltimore City had the smallest percentage – 35 percent – of prepared children, while about 80 percent of the incoming class in Somerset County was ready to start school, according to the report.
Grafwallner said the department intends to distribute “more specialized reports” to help each community develop a plan to prepare more children.
He added he is also concerned about the disparity of preparedness level between children from lower and higher income groups. Slightly less than half of the students in the in the free and reduced price meal program are ready for kindergarten, the report says Sixty-seven percent of Maryland students that are not in the program are fully prepared for school.
“The answer to this is to bring high-quality programs to low-income communities,” Grafwallner noted.
But one story has a happier ending: Grafwallner said officials saw “some very encouraging results with the Hispanic population” this year. The number of prepared Hispanic children in Maryland increased three percent from last school year, he said. This year, 46 percent of the Hispanic population was ready for school, which is 23 percent lower than the white population.
The increase is due to statewide efforts to make the readiness of Hispanic children “an issue” two years ago, Grafwallner said. School officials worked with outreach community groups to “get the word out” to the Hispanic community that pre-kindergarten education is important.
To prepare more children in every community, Grafwallner believes local and state school officials need to continue to work with various civic groups to “start some parenting education.” However, “its not just one or two things that will make a big difference,” he noted.