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Readying Kids for Kindergarten

Readying kids for kindergarten — and life

Orange County is not ready for kindergarten. We are not just talking about our 4- and 5-year-old residents. We mean all of us. From lawmakers to parents to school districts, we have not created an evidenced-based plan for ushering our community’s youngest children into a lifetime of learning, achieving and succeeding.

As a result, 62 percent of kindergarten-aged children in Orange County do not have the general knowledge needed to start school. A full 62 percent lack the prosocial, or “helping,” behavior they need to succeed in a classroom, and nearly 50 percent of kindergartners in the county don’t have the gross and fine motor skills needed to grasp a crayon.

And, yet, we are optimistic. Why? Because, for the first time, thanks to an effort pioneered by the Children and Families Commission of Orange County, this county has the quantifiable, actionable information we need to get ready — and get our young children ready — for school.

The Orange County Children’s Partnership recently released the 22nd Annual Conditions of Children Report. For the first time, this study includes a look at Kindergarten readiness, using the Early Development Index.

The EDI is a valid population measure of school readiness that drills down into five developmental areas known to affect well-being and school performance: physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills and communication skills and general knowledge. Each of the five developmental criteria are broken down into several highly detailed subareas.

All Orange County public schools with a kindergarten population are included in the analysis. Never before have our community’s leaders had this level of detailed, county-wide information.

The information couldn’t be more valuable, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Nationally, children who do not have access to high-quality early childhood opportunities and experiences are 25 percent more likely to drop out of high school, and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

So, when we look at the state of our incoming kindergartners, we’re really taking a sneak peek into the future of our county. What we’re finding is a landscape of incredible variability: Based on all five of the measures, 72 percent of kindergarten-age children in one community are ready for school, while in a neighboring community, that number drops to 43 percent.

By breaking down the information across developmental measures as well as across geography for the entire county, the report can serve as a catalyst for bringing together parents, organizations and community leaders to improve school readiness and create more enriching environments for our children.

One district using the EDI data to take action is the Santa Ana Unified School District. “We are focusing heavily on early education to improve students’ third-grade reading and math proficiency and social-emotional development,” said John Palacio, president of the SAUSD Board of Trustees. “At the center of this effort is the EDI data, which will help us precisely measure if our students are on a positive trajectory for success in school and life.”

Kindergarten readiness information can help Orange County’s policymakers improve school readiness, make more strategic decisions about allocating resources, engage leaders and capitalize on the efforts, programs and movements that have been shown to work. By uncovering the areas of success and concern, we can meet challenges intelligently and effectively.

In other words, we — parents, teachers, lawmakers and stakeholders alike — can use this information to get ready for kindergarten.

Sandra Barry is chair of the Children and Families Commission of Orange County and former superintendent of the Anaheim City School District. Stefanie P. Phillips, Ed.D., is superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District.