Kindergarten Readiness (page 2)
Although educators have long been interested in fostering children's readiness for schooling, defining readiness is not as easy as you might think. Schools often use chronological age to determine eligibility for entry, but several studies have shown that age is not a good predictor of academic success or learning (Carlton & Winsler, 1999; Morrison, Griffith, & Alberts, 1997).
National surveys have asked parents and kindergarten teachers what they think are important readiness indicators. Both parents and teachers emphasize children's overall physical health, verbal communication skills, and enthusiasm. Teachers also emphasize social skills and ability to follow classroom rules and procedures. And parents—but not most teachers—see academic knowledge, such as familiarity with the alphabet or counting skills, as an important prerequisite (Lewit & Baker, 1995). Other educators believe that self-control over behavior and emotions, the ability to keep attention focused, and the ability to avoid impulsive responding are major factors that underlie readiness; research indicates that self-regulation of behavior is significantly related to growth in both reading and math skills (Blair, 2002; Fantuzzo et al., 2007; McClelland et al., 2007; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2003a). Many school districts use standardized assessments to assess readiness. Although these tests are improving, many show only low to moderate levels of predictive validity (Carlton & Winsler, 1999; Duncan & Rafter, 2005).
How ready are our nation's children? On national surveys in the early 1990s, kindergarten teachers rated approximately 65% of their students as ready for kindergarten on all five of the readiness characteristics the surveys assessed—rested, able to verbally communicate clearly, enthusiastic and interested, able to take turns and share, and able to sit still (Lewit & Baker, 1995). The overall health of children entering school, including immunization rates, improved over the 1990s (National Education Goals Panel, 1999). One study assessed a nationally representative sample of 22,000 children who entered kindergarten in the fall of 1998. The majority of children had basic letter and number knowledge, showed good prosocial skills, persisted at tasks, were eager to learn, and could pay attention (West, Denton & Germino-Hausken, 2000). However, almost all the measures varied according to factors such as age (older kindergarteners, those from 6 to 6.5 years, score higher than those just turning 5); family type (children from single-parent homes tend to score lower); mothers' education (the higher the mothers' level of education, the higher the children's scores); race/ethnicity (non-Hispanic white and Asian children score higher than African American and Hispanic children, especially on teacher ratings of behavior); and/or socioeconomic status (children from higher-income families score higher) (Stipek & Ryan, 1997). In sum, although the majority of children seem reasonably ready for school and there have been important improvements, there is still much room for improvement.
Children old enough for school but identified as not ready present a dilemma for educators. Is it best to redshirt, or hold back, these children and keep them in their home or in preschool for an additional year, place them in a transition class (either before kindergarten or between kindergarten and first grade), or retain them for an additional year of kindergarten? None of these options has been very successful in helping children catch up to peers who were not kept back. In fact, several studies have found that children recommended for delay, retention, or transition classes but promoted anyway (perhaps at their parents' insistence) score just as well on achievement tests as their classmates (Carlton & Winsler, 1999; Stipek, 2002).
Some educators believe we need to rethink the idea of school readiness. They argue that it is schools that must be ready, rather than placing the burden of readiness on children (Carlton & Winsler, 1999; Dockett & Perry, 2003; Stipek, 2002). These educators, drawing on Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development, say that holding back unready children deprives them of the "very culture and learning situations [they] need" (Carlton & Winsler, 1999, p. 346). Postponing school entry keeps these children in the environments that created and maintained the unreadiness in the first place. This view challenges schools to work with children's existing abilities, scaffolding their learning experiences to help them acquire the cognitive skills our culture sees as important for learning and academic achievement. Delaying children will only produce further academic problems, and may well damage both motivation and self-esteem (Rose, Medway, Cantrell, & Marus, 1983).
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