Attendance at preschool, parental income and education levels and the language spoken at home affect Sonoma County children’s readiness for learning when they enter kindergarten, according to the 2018-19 survey by the Road to Early Achievement and Development for Youth (READY) program. Of the 1,505 children in this year’s study, seven out of 10 local kindergartners were ready or almost ready to start school. They had the social, developmental and academic skills needed for readiness.
READY’s annual survey uses the Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile, a universal screening measure used to assess children’s readiness for school. Sonoma County outcomes and top ranking factors in readiness are similar to those found in national school readiness research.
While this is good news about a majority of Sonoma County children, those that enter kindergarten unprepared often fall behind at school as they progress through the grades. Research shows that successful entry into kindergarten lays the foundation for long-term school success.
“What we think of as an ‘achievement gap’ is actually often an opportunity gap,” says Executive Director of First 5 Sonoma County Angie Dillon-Shore. “Children who have greater opportunities that support optimal cognitive and social emotional development from birth are far more likely to be ready to succeed when they start kindergarten.”
Both positive and negative factors affect children’s school readiness. “Supports for school readiness include quality early learning programs, rich interactions with parents and caregivers, lessons in literacy and language development at home and in the community, and having all their basic human needs, such as food and medical care, met. There’s work to do to ensure that every Sonoma County child has all of these opportunities so they can succeed in school and in life,” adds Dillon-Shore. The READY report for 2018-19 is available online at upstreaminvestments.org/Learn/Reports-and-Publications/.
Research also shows the positive effects that families, schools, early learning environments and the community support has in children’s school success. Without those supports, a large achievement gap appears between low-income minority children and children from moderate- to high-income families.
The difference in readiness made by the language spoken at home was shown in this year’s study. It found that top readiness criteria were met by 39 percent of children from English-speaking households and 25 percent of children from Spanish-speaking households. Last year, 44 percent of children from English-speaking households and 29 percent of children from Spanish-speaking households met top readiness criteria.
“The study suggests that more programs for Spanish-speaking families that include activities involving reading, storytelling and music would make a positive impact on local children. In addition, both children and parents would benefit if the adults had more access to quality educational opportunities throughout their lives,” says Human Services Department Assistant Director Oscar Chavez.
Research shows that positive factors affecting readiness include quality early care and education, and early literacy activities, such as frequent reading at home, especially among low-income children whose first language is not English.
Attendance at preschool or transitional kindergarten helped children get ready to perform well at school. Of the children in the READY survey, 87 percent had been in preschool, transitional kindergarten and/or licensed home-based childcare before entering kindergarten. Children that attended one of these early learning programs were twice as likely to meet readiness standards when starting kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten programs enroll children who have their fifth birthday between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2, so the children are age four when the kindergarten semester begins.
The effect of family income on readiness was also important. Children whose annual family income was $100,000 or more were more than two times more likely to enter kindergarten with the skills needed when compared to children whose annual family income is $34,999 or less. In addition, 43 percent of English-speaking families earn $100,000 or more while only 4 percent of Spanish-speaking families earn the same.
The READY program is funded by First 5 Sonoma County and managed by the Sonoma County Human Services Department Upstream Investments Initiative. The 2018-19 study assessed 1,505 kindergarten students in partnership with 10 Sonoma County school districts and more than 78 kindergarten teachers. An additional parent survey also gathered information on the early learning experiences of 970 of these children. Since 2013, the READY project has conducted research to support the pilot and adoption of a common kindergarten readiness assessment throughout Sonoma County school districts.