The question is: How much stock should be put into the kindergarten-preparedness study?
A recently released state educational study of children entering kindergarten came to what appeared to be a shocking conclusion. But at second glance, there may be less to the study than meets the eye.
The Illinois State Board of Education’s 2018-19 Kindergarten Individual Development Survey concluded that just 1 out of every 4 kindergartners is ready in three key developmental areas.
The study examined 115,920 kindergarten students in fall 2018 in the areas of social and emotional development, language and literacy, and math. Just 26 percent demonstrated readiness in all three areas.
The question, of course, is just how developed kindergartners have to be in those areas to be determined ready.
The study, unsurprisingly, showed that children who come from more affluent backgrounds were more likely to be considered ready. At the same time, the study also showed that socioeconomic circumstances, while a factor, were not the determining factors.
For example, in affluent Lake County, 36 percent of students come from low-income families, while just 1 percent of the kindergartners demonstrated readiness in all three areas.
Here’s another mind-bender. Kenilworth, one of the most affluent cities in the country, has no students from low-income families. At the same time, just 20 percent of kindergartners were rated as ready in the applicable areas.
That means, of course, that 80 percent of kindergartners who all come from affluent families were not ready.
Maybe the study should have come to a different conclusion — not that low-income kindergartners are unprepared because of resources being withheld from them, but that most kindergartners, by virtue of their tender years, can’t meet some academic standard of readiness.
Or consider Germantown, a small town in Clinton County, where 93 percent of kindergartners were deemed ready and just 14 percent of them came from low-income families.
State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala used the study to call for higher spending to provide “comprehensive, high-quality supports for early learners.”
Greater attention to early-childhood education may be appropriate. But using this study to justify increased spending is an iffy proposition.
Lisa Leali, Kenilworth’s chief education officer, was skeptical of the findings, asserting that no one should be surprised if 5-year-olds entering kindergarten don’t meet the standards established in the study.
Why? For the most obvious of reasons — she noted they’re 5 and embarking on “their first experience in an elementary school.”
The real issue is how Kenilworth’s 5-year-olds — as well as their counterparts in schools across the state — are doing after sixth grade, ninth grade and their senior year in high school.
Whatever its value, the study came to other conclusions. While just 25 percent of kindergartners meet the three measures to determine readiness, 17 percent were ready in two developmental areas, 18 percent in one developmental area and 39 percent were ready in none of the three areas.
While child rearing isn’t what society would like for a variety of reasons, it’s hard to imagine that it’s slipped to the low level the study would have people believe.
Participation in the study was mandated by the state. It’s not surprising that school officials in districts that did poorly badmouthed the study as a waste of time that relied on too much individual assessment by teachers. But criticism of the study also came from districts whose students performed relatively well.
In Arlington Heights, 44 percent of kindergartners were deemed ready. Superintendent Lori Bein said her district wouldn’t have participated if not required to and suggested the results were “lower than what is actually true of our students.”
Whether the study is accurate or not, and more importantly, what it means, are a matter of opinion. But educational leaders and legislators would be well-advised to consider that question seriously before making decisions based on the results of observing 5-year-olds.