Monday, December 11, 2017

Excellence with Equity in the Early Years

| Post by Cory Curl | 

Last week, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) released information about the readiness of incoming kindergarten students in the fall of 2017* – the children who will graduate from high school in 2030. The data include results for students overall, but also by gender, race/ethnicity, eligibility for free or reduced lunch, learning differences, and English language learners.

The data make clear what Kentucky has recognized for decades:

  1. We need to do all we can in the earliest years to make sure children are ready for kindergarten by supporting families in creating safe, nurturing environments at home and by providing high-quality early learning experiences.

  2. We need to make sure children have early elementary learning environments that meet them where they are and help them achieve at their highest potential, addressing their specialized needs and engaging them in challenging, active, and meaningful work.
From our perspective as equity-minded education advocates, we can look at the statewide results to get a better sense of where schools will need to target resources in the early elementary grades to help each student master reading and mathematics (and well beyond, including social-emotional learning) by the end of the third grade.

For that, let’s look back at statewide results** for last year’s kindergarteners, the mighty Class of 2029.

Overall, four student groups have readiness rates (a composite of academic/cognitive, language development, and physical development domains assessed by teachers) below 40%: students eligible for free or reduced lunch, students with disabilities with an IEP, Hispanic students, and English learner students.

Key findings digging into these domain data (reported as “below average”, “average”, and “above average”):

  • Across all groups, the academic/cognitive domain has the lowest results, with 63% of all students starting kindergarten in the “below average” range. The lowest results here are among the same four groups as in the composite rate.

  • The greatest variation in results is in the language development domain, which ranges from 23% “below average” for female children to 77% for English learner children.

  • Across all domains, African-American children fare higher – in other words, they have lower “below average” rates – than children eligible for free or reduced lunch, students with disabilities with an IEP, Hispanic students, and English learner students. 
The screener also provides information from parent surveys about children’s social-emotional development and self-help. While the overall results for the social-emotional domain are relatively high – 27% of incoming students have “below average” results – they vary from 17% for female children to 43% for children with disabilities with an IEP.

All of these results are important for individual children, their families, and their teachers. The patterns and trends we see in them can also point to where schools are more likely to need to allocate additional support for students – clearly, based on these results, to students with low family incomes (more than 64% of the class of 2029), those with learning differences, Hispanic students, and students learning English. 

This equity data journey would not, however, be complete without walking through the school from the kindergarten to the third grade classrooms. Step inside.

What do we learn? Quite a bit.

In 2016-17, across Kentucky’s third grade classrooms:

  • African-American students had lower reading proficiency rates (33%) than students with low family incomes (47%), students with learning differences with IEP (39%), and Hispanic students (43%).

  • African-American students had lower mathematics proficiency rates (30%) than students with low family incomes (42%), students with learning differences with IEP (31%), Hispanic students (41%), and English learner students (31%).
Kentucky has set ambitious goals to increase reading and mathematics proficiency and close the disparities that have denied equity of opportunity for far too long. While every moment of every day of every grade matters, early childhood and the early elementary grades are an essential part of the equation.


* This readiness information comes from the state’s Common Kindergarten Entry Screener (the BRIGANCE Early Childhood Kindergarten Screen III). I encourage you to check out the recent results, but also keep in mind that 4,500 fewer students were tested this year than in previous years due to the change in the kindergarten enrollment age cut off from October 1st to August 1st. The absence of these younger students in the overall data makes it difficult to compare trends.

**Thanks to KDE for giving rich detail by school, by domain and by student group in the School Report Card – just click on state, the assessment tab, and then K-SCREEN. You can also go to “Data Sets” at the top and download an excel file. This is the most recent year where we have detailed results available to the public.

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!