81 percent of kindergartners ready to learn

Report shows 32 percentage point jump in past decade

March 22, 2011|By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun

Nearly a decade after the state pushed to have full-day kindergarten and more high-quality early childhood programs, an annual survey shows that 81 percent of the state's kindergartners have the academic and social skills they will need to be successful in school.

The state's Ready to Learn report shows a 32 percentage-point jump in the past decade in the number of children ready when they enter kindergarten.

"We have seen a major improvement that impacts thousands of children," said Rolf Grafwallner, assistant state superintendent for early childhood development.

Each fall, kindergarten teachers fill out an assessment of how well their students are doing by the end of the first quarter in academic, physical and social development. The teachers look not only at whether a child knows the alphabet and numbers, but how well they get along with other children and whether their physical development makes them ready to learn.

A number of factors has played into the improvement, said Grafwallner. For example, the state has seen a six-fold increase in the number of state and nationally accredited programs for young children. Many child care providers, including those who take care of children in their homes as well as Head Start and private facilities, have improved their programs, he said. And local school districts have opened pre-kindergarten programs, particularly for at-risk children.

Parents also have played a role in improving literacy, he said. The importance of reading aloud to children and having them exposed to many experiences has filtered into the public awareness, he said.

Suburban school districts surrounding Baltimore have exceeded the state average. Harford, Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties all have either 85 percent or 86 percent of students who are ready to learn in kindergarten.

Only 67 percent of students in Baltimore City, however, were considered on target, but that was an 18 percentage-point increase over last year.

The state report also shows a narrowing of the gap for poor students, special-education students and students whose second language is English as well as African-American students.

Baltimore County has made the most progress with African-American students. In 2002, 32 percent of African-Americans in the county were ready compared to 83 percent this year. In Howard County, the percentage grew from 54 percent to 78 percent for African-American kindergarteners.

Grafwallner said there were several other factors that appear to have contributed to the increase, including a change in how old a student has to be to enter kindergarten. A child used to have to be 5 years old by the end of the calendar year, but now students must turn 5 by Sept. 1. Grafwallner said the state saw a slight increase each year in the school readiness percentages as younger students were held back.

With more than 80 percent of students meeting the mark, Grafwallner said, it is likely that the state will increase the standards in the next several years for kindergartners.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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