An Introduction to School Readiness

This blog post is the first of a four-part series about School Readiness.

What Does It Mean to be Ready for School?

According to many scholars and educators, school readiness is multifaceted and means that children are ready for school, families and communities are ready to support children’s growth and development, and schools are ready to accept children into their classrooms.

Children are ready

In one of the early large-scale efforts to establish a common framework for understanding and addressing school readiness, the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP, 1995) organized children’s readiness for school into five domains: Physical Well-Being & Motor Development, Social & Emotional Development, Approaches Toward Learning, Communication & Language Usage, and Cognition & General Knowledge. This framework marked a shift in conceptions of school readiness away from a focus on academic skills alone and towards a holistic view of children’s preparation for school. Accordingly, being ready for school means children have optimal physical health and development and motor skills; are able to empathize with others and form positive social relationships with adults and peers; demonstrate curiosity and eagerness for learning new concepts, as well as persistence and attentiveness when engaged in tasks; use language to effectively communicate their needs and to get and receive information; show emergent literacy skills, including knowing the letters of the alphabet and understanding the relationship between letters and sounds; and possess early math knowledge, including counting and recognition of basic shapes.

Families and communities are ready

In addition, the NEGP framework expanded the definition of school readiness beyond the child to also include the preparation of families and communities to support children’s school readiness. As stated in a widely cited study of readiness:

Children are not innately “ready” or “not ready” for school. Their skills and development are strongly influenced by their families and through their interactions with other people and environments before coming to school (Maxwell & Clifford, 2004).

Schools are ready

The third element of school readiness, the readiness of schools to receive children, involves coordination between early childhood and K-12 education systems, and a commitment from schools to the success of every child enrolled.

The NEGP framework remains relevant today and is still used by early childhood agencies nationally and internationally, including Head Start and UNICEF.

Why Does School Readiness Matter?

A large body of research connects school readiness to an array of long-term outcomes. Research shows that cognitive and social-emotional readiness skills predict children’s ability to smoothly transition into and through elementary school (Pianta, Cox, & Snow, 2007). Children who demonstrate proficiency across multiple readiness dimensions are more likely to succeed academically in first grade than are those who are competent in only one or two dimensions (Hair, Halle, Terry-Humen, Lavelle, & Calkins, 2006) and children’s patterns of readiness just prior to kindergarten, particularly possessing social competence or advanced memory skills, predict fifth grade achievement (Sabol & Pianta, 2012).

Longitudinal studies have demonstrated that school readiness has an impact beyond elementary school as well. For example, kindergarten readiness skills have been shown to predict academic achievement in early adolescence (Duncan et al., 2007). Furthermore, children who demonstrate poor achievement early in their school careers are more likely to be held back in a grade, which puts them at greater risk for school dropout, even if the retention occurs during elementary school (Alexander, Entwisle, & Kabani, 2001; Roderick, 1994). Additionally, kindergartners with prosocial skills at school entry are significantly more likely to have positive outcomes as young adults on a range of indicators (Jones, Greenberg, & Crowley, 2015). Jones and colleagues (2015) gathered teachers’ assessments of children’s social interactions at kindergarten and then measured educational attainment, employment status, receipt of public assistance, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health outcomes when the study participants were teenagers and young adults. Higher social competence skills in kindergarten significantly predicted positive outcomes across all of these measured domains later in life.

The research conducted to date clearly demonstrates that school readiness has  wide-ranging implications for a child's long-term outcomes.

Coming up in the SRA series: 1) Why and how do we measure school readiness, 2) How can we close readiness gaps, and 3) How communities use school readiness data to turn the curve. 

References

Alexander, K., Entwisle, D., & Kabbani, N. (2001). The dropout process in life course perspective: Early risk factors at home and school. The Teachers College Record, 103(5), 760-822.

Duncan, G. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanov, P., …& Sexton, H. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43, 1428-1446.

Hair, E., Halle, T., Terry-Humen, E., Lavelle, B., & Calkins, J. (2006). Children's school readiness in the ECLS-K: Predictions to academic, health, and social outcomes in first grade. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 21(4), 431-454.

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283-2290.

Maxwell, K. L., & Clifford, R. M. (2004). School readiness assessment. Young Children, 59, 42-49.

National Education Goals Panel. (1995). 1995 National Education Goals Report. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/negp/reports/goalsv1.pdf

Pianta, R. C., Cox, M. J., & Snow, K. L. (2007). School readiness and the transition to kindergarten in the era of accountability. Paul H Brookes Publishing.

Roderick, M. (1994). Grade retention and school dropout: Investigating the association. American Educational Research Journal, 31(4), 729-759. doi:10.3102/00028312031004729

Sabol, T. J., & Pianta, R. C. (2012). Patterns of school readiness forecast achievement and socioemotional development at the end of elementary school. Child Development, 83(1), 282-299. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01678.x

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