A statewide screening found that 51 percent of Kentucky students were not prepared to start kindergarten this past fall, Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday.
The findings show that the achievement gap for students who are black, disabled and receiving free and reduced lunch begins at the preschool level and that early childhood education matters, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said.
Beshear announced the results of the first statewide implementation of the common Kindergarten Readiness Screener at a news conference with Holliday and Terry Tolan, executive director of the Governor's Office of Early Childhood.
Teachers administered the BRIGANCE K Screener to 50,532 kindergarten students in all 173 school districts at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.
The screening assessed whether "students were ready to hit the ground running at the start of their education career," Beshear said at a news conference. "Call it, if you will, a snapshot of knowledge and skills at this very early age."
The results present a challenge for the students, their teachers and the entire state, Beshear said.
In Fayette County Public Schools, 47 percent of students screened were classified as not ready. Some schools fared better in the screening than others, however. At Maxwell Spanish Immersion Elementary, for example, 82.4 percent of all students screened were deemed ready for kindergarten.
Fayette County School spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Fayette County just began using the BRIGANCE K Screener this past fall, but had been assessing kindergarten students using another screening tool since 2008.
The screener measures how well a child is prepared to succeed at the time of the screening. The students were asked questions such as whether they could say their name and age, to recite the alphabet and count to 30.
Among black students screened statewide, 55.8 percent were not ready for kindergarten. Among students receiving free and reduced lunch, 62.4 percent were not ready. And among disabled students, 71.8 percent were not ready. Beshear said nearly 26,000 students entered school unprepared for kindergarten work.
"From day one, these students may be at a disadvantage; they are behind, and some lack the foundational skills on which to build," Beshear said. "Too often, without significant intervention they don't catch up with their peers. As a result, they struggle facing years of poor grades and negative school experiences" and can be unprepared for college.
Beshear said the data will be used to strengthen programs to ensure children have the best opportunity.
Beshear noted that he included in his two-year budget a proposal to expand preschool opportunities to 5,100 Kentucky children and funded numerous childcare programs.
Regardless of whether the students are ready, Holliday said he wants to make sure "schools are ready for them."
Holliday said the department's goal is for every child to be reading on grade level or above by the time they leave the third grade.
Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears