Slightly fewer students were ready for kindergarten in Fayette County in 2016-17 than the year before, dropping from 54.6 percent to 50.5 percent, according to data released by the Kentucky Department of Education.
But statewide, Kentucky’s kindergartener readiness numbers show consistent growth for students enrolled in state-funded preschool, from 48.1 percent to 49.5 percent, and federal Head Start programs, from 45.8 percent to 48 percent.
Black and Hispanic students and students with limited English proficiency also showed modest increases in students considered ready.
“This data reinforces the importance of quality early learning opportunities for all children,” Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said in a news release. “All children need to have the same opportunities to develop and learn before they enter school so that they can hit the ground running from the first day they enter kindergarten. Without those opportunities, children often struggle and fall behind their peers. While it is good to see some growth in certain areas this year, it is critical that Kentucky continue in its efforts to improve early childhood programs for all students.”
Teachers administered a screening test to 46,582 students in all 173 school districts at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. The tasks asked of students include their name and age, to say the alphabet and count to 30.
This year and last, only about half of the students entering kindergarten in Kentucky were considered ready.
In Fayette County, the results ranged from Russell Cave Elementary, where 10.3 percent of students tested were ready for kindergarten, to Stonewall Elementary, where 81.3 percent of students tested were ready for kindergarten.
There is a smaller number of kindergarten students at Russell Cave Elementary than most schools in the district, which leads to more variation, said district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall. She said about four of 39 students were ready for kindergarten.
Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk said once the school year starts, kindergarten teachers start working to help every child succeed. But Caulk said the question should not be what schools do once students arrive without the skills they need to be successful. He said the real question is whether it is acceptable in Kentucky for only one out of two students to be ready for school.
“Just as we all agree that we have an imperative to ensure more students graduate from high school prepared for college, career and life, there needs to be a shared imperative that students enter kindergarten ready to learn,” Caulk said. “We have to address the readiness gap. Disparities don’t start the day a child enters kindergarten. We need to come together as a community and advocate for our General Assembly to fully fund universal preschool for all children.”
Caulk said Fayette County had seen some promising results at some schools that have piloted programs to help students transition to kindergarten. One program is Tiger School at Tates Creek Elementary, where before school even starts, incoming kindergarten students can attend a two-week early entry program that gives students a chance to learn about school routines and academic expectations. The program is a partnership between the school, the family resource center and the summer feeding program and has been in place for four years.
At Tates Creek Elementary, 56.1 percent of incoming students were ready for kindergarten.
“It’s encouraging to see that a higher percentage of students at Tates Creek were ready for kindergarten compared with schools that had similar percentages of students living in poverty,” Caulk said.
As part of Caulk’s Blueprint for Success Plan, the district will be offering summer “bridge” programs at some schools that will include transitional programs for incoming kindergarten students.
But, the superintendent said, “a summer learning program cannot replace the five years of rich early childhood experiences that every child deserves.”
Kentucky is focused on improving the quality of early care and education programs for all preschoolers, education department officials said.
One way it is doing that is through the new Kentucky All Stars program, an expanded five-star quality rating and improvement system that serves all early care and education programs that receive public funding including child care centers, Head Start and public preschool.
“Quality early learning programs and experiences are a key strategy in closing the opportunity and achievement gaps that currently exist among our various student groups,” Pruitt said.
This is the fourth year that the Kentucky Readiness Screener has been given statewide to all incoming kindergarten students.