Kindergarten

Key risk factors for kindergarten-unreadiness among local preschoolers have changed little over five years and several of the risk factors are higher for local children than they are statewide, according to a report released this week by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation.

Locally, some factors–such as the ratio of children born to mothers with less than a high school education–show Hispanic children to be at the most risk of being unprepared for kindergarten. Other factors, such as low birth weight, show black children to be most at risk of being unprepared.

“When we take a deeper look, we’re seeing that children of color and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds are most at risk,” said Kathy Glazer, president of the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. “We believe it would be beneficial if communities can pay attention to targeted strategies to make sure we’re helping all children gain on pace with their peers and especially those children of color and from low-income families.”

The foundation’s biennial School Readiness Report Card shows that two important health-related risk factors—the percentage of births to mothers with less than a high-school education and the rate of low birth-weight deliveries—showed little or no improvement statewide between 2012 and 2016.

Glazer said these two measures have been predictive of children not faring well in school.

“We don’t want these indicators to become prescriptions for failure but rather to take note that when babies are born into poverty or at low birth rate or to mothers who are under-educated, that’s a signal that they will need more support and sustained investment to make sure they are able to succeed,” Glazer said.

In Fredericksburg, nearly 14 percent of children born in 2016 were born to mothers who did not graduate from high school. In 2012, it was 15 percent.

In Spotsylvania, that percentage increased from 8 to 10 percent between 2012 and 2016.

Statewide, 9 percent of children are born to mothers with less than a high school education.

Among low-income children, the percentage born to mothers with less education is much higher—93 percent in Fredericksburg, 79 percent in Spotsylvania and almost 76 percent in Stafford.

Among Hispanic children, almost 52 percent in the city and almost 36 percent in Spotsylvania are born to mothers with less than a high school education.

Statewide, about 8 percent of children are considered low birth weight—weighing less than 5 pounds at birth. Locally, percentages range from 6 percent in Spotsylvania to 9 percent in Caroline.

But among black children, 13 percent are born weighing less than 5 pounds statewide. Locally, the percentage of black babies born at low birth weight ranges between 12 percent in Stafford and almost 21 percent in King George County.

The School Readiness Report also shows that approaching 15 percent of Virginia children between the ages of birth and 4 live in poverty. Though this number has decreased from a high of 18 percent, it still slightly exceeds the pre-recession poverty levels.

Statewide, the percentage of kindergartners who failed to meet the literary benchmark score on the PALS-K assessment, administered in the fall of the kindergarten year, has increased for four straight years, from 12.5 percent in the 2013-14 school year to 16 percent last school year.

Across Virginia, just under 14 percent of kindergartners required special literacy intervention. Locally, 15.7 percent of Spotsylvania kindergartners and 14.7 percent of Stafford kindergartners needed intervention. Fewer than the statewide average required intervention in the other three localities—Fredericksburg, Caroline and King George.

The report suggests that increased poverty is a cause of the decline in PALS-K results.

“Starting in school year 2013-14, each pool of students taking the PALS-K has included a far greater number of students than in previous years who lived in poverty for the entire first five years of life,” the report states.

The report shows a large performance gap between economically-disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children and between Hispanic and non-Hispanic children, both black and white.

The performance gaps stay constant over time, the report says.

“Severe and very troubling racial/ethnic, economic and geographic disparities show no improvement,” it states.

Glazer said VCEF is advocating for localities to look at the data and “make sure that these children have access to high-quality childcare and quality preschool—some of the levers that we know really help children be able to achieve and to thrive.”

“Communities in particular can use the data and use the mapping tool to take a look and compare how over several years their numbers might change and how different sub-populations compare in different indicators,” she continued. “There is so much power in knowledge and when we count and value these statistics, it’s the first step toward figuring out what we can do to make sure that all children can succeed.”

The report and mapping tool are available at virginiareportcard.com.

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Adele Uphaus–Conner: 540/735-1973 auphaus@freelancestar.com @flsadele

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