School Readiness Progress Measured in Maryland
As states and the federal government evaluate school reform efforts, early childhood programs are receiving more attention. A number of studies, including research from North Carolina and now new data from Maryland, demonstrate that investments in high quality early childhood settings for children from birth to the age of school entry age can help give children the skills they need to thrive in school and beyond. Unfortunately, research also shows us that many child care providers do not have the resources, training and knowledge they need to contribute to positive outcomes for the children in their care.
As part of its school reform efforts, the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) has worked to improve the quality of all child care settings-centers, Head Start, and family child care-to help children prepare for kindergarten, and it recently released school readiness data that shows those efforts are working.
As Maryland invests in child care quality improvement initiatives, the percentage of the state's children prepared to enter kindergarten continues to climb, and the state has been successful at beginning to close gaps among Maryland's kindergartners.
The results were measured using the state-developed Maryland Model of School Readiness (MMSR), which relies on teacher observation and assessment of work samples to determine children's preparedness for kindergarten. Using the Work Sampling System assessment to evaluate 30 indicators across all developmental domains, the MMSR measures whether children are "fully ready" for kindergarten, or whether they are "approaching" or "developing" readiness.
The MSDE cites access to full-day structured settings prior to school entry as a key factor in increased kindergarten readiness rates. It also highlights an increase in accredited early childhood programs and the implementation of several quality initiatives since the state created the Division of Early Childhood Development in 2005. Maryland assistant state superintendent for early childhood development, Rolf Grafwallner, has also indicated that the overall increase in readiness may in part be due to raising the age for kindergarten eligibility in recent years.
The MMSR data shows that the percent of children fully ready for school increased for the ninth consecutive year, with a 3 percent increase since 2010. African American and Hispanic children have made even greater gains in the past year, with the percentage fully kindergarten ready increasing this year by 5 percent and 4 percent respectively. About a third of Maryland's kindergartners are African American, and 14 percent are Hispanic. Children with disabilities also showed a higher rate of increased readiness than the general population, rising from 51 percent fully ready in 2010 to 56 percent fully ready this year. Among the 14 percent of kindergartners who are English Language Learners (ELL), readiness kept pace with the general population, rising from 65 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2011.
The percentage of low-income children who were fully ready for kindergarten rose from 69 percent in 2010 to 73 percent in 2011. Approximately 42 percent of all kindergarten children in Maryland are from low-income households, defined according to eligibility for free and reduced price meals. The literacy skills of low-income children have increased since last year, but continue to lag behind those of their higher income peers, with 61 percent of low-income children showing full readiness in literacy compared to the overall rate of 71 percent in 2011. In 2010, those rates were 56 percent and 67 percent respectively.
According to the MSDE, the overall gains in readiness were evident across the population of children, regardless of the settings they were in prior to kindergarten. There was some variation in readiness found depending on the children's previous settings, and possibly related to the differences in the populations those settings serve. Those who had attended non-public nursery schools were most likely to be fully ready at 92 percent, followed by child care centers at 87 percent, pre-k programs at 81 percent, and family child care at 77 percent.
As states design and evaluate school reform efforts, they can look to states like Maryland for strategies that improve school readiness by supporting child care and early education programs to achieve higher quality.