Gevirtz Graduate School of Education researchers are finding significant evidence for the importance of assessing children’s school readiness as a way to predict students’ future academic success. Young children are more likely to make successful transitions into kindergarten if they have experienced Head Start or other forms of high-quality preschooling. Optimal preschool conditions include instructional play, opportunities to verbalize choices, and significant exposure to robust print and language rich learning environments. Under such circumstances, these children will develop positive perceptions about learning and the schooling environment. When coupled with good teaching strategies and appropriate resources, early identification of children’s levels of school readiness can enhance students’ social and cognitive ability and lead to positive student academic outcomes.
The Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile (KSEP), a school readiness measure, is effective in evaluating a child’s school readiness upon entry into kindergarten (Lilles, Furlong, Quirk, et al., 2009). This study highlights the urgent need for early intervention in child development and pre-school programs to improve students’ aptitude for learning, especially for those students from underprivileged backgrounds. School districts may use results from this tool to detect school readiness levels for all incoming kindergarten students and provide early place-based interventions for students at risk, monitor the academic performance of students, and foster the developmental growth of students with the highest KSEP scores. Furlong maintains that “kindergarten is important. Children’s brains need high-quality input…to stimulate their learning.” Furthermore, both Furlong and Quirk emphasize the importance of providing all students with greater educational and language-related stimulation in the home or in preschool to increase their potential to become academically successful whatever their initial readiness level.
Using the KSEP, Professors Furlong and Quirk investigated the effects of age, gender, and preschool experience on children’s school readiness levels upon entry into kindergarten. Furlong and Quirk examined a sample of 5,512 children from Hispanic heritage backgrounds and families from low-socioeconomic backgrounds to identify the strongest predictors of school readiness. Furlong and Quirk found that preschool experience, age, and gender affect Latino children’s school readiness upon initial admission into kindergarten. Most importantly, however, children who went through some form of preschool experience, either through their interactions with parents, peers, and relatives in their home and community or through Head Start, preschool, or daycare, demonstrated high levels of school readiness or were thus rated significantly higher in the KSEP than children who did not undergo any preschool experience.
Furlong and Quirk’s findings also show that students who received higher KSEP scores from their teachers upon entry into kindergarten demonstrated success in achieving proficient or advanced scores in both the Reading and Math portions of the California Standards Test (CST) at the end of Grade 2. According to their report, “Fifty-nine percent of the children with high KSEP ratings had CST scores in the proficient-advanced range compared to 27% of children with low KSEP scores” (Furlong & Quirk [in review]). High KSEP ratings also predict children’s proficiency in mathematics at Grade 2. In fact, 69% of students who received high KSEP scores in kindergarten tested in the proficient-advanced range in the CST Mathematics portion compared to only 43% of children with low KSEP ratings. Thus, scores on the KSEP provide strong predictive evidence for children’s future academic achievement. These results support Gevitz School researcher Rumberger and his colleague Arellano’s (2007) claim that “half of the achievement gap in fourth grade exists when students walk through the door in kindergarten (as cited in Furlong & Quirk [in review]).” Furlong and Quirk’s study also supports previous findings (Meisels, 1996; Shepard & Smith, 1986) that reveal older children, on average, to be more school ready upon entry into kindergarten than younger children. Girls were also found to be more ready than boys. However, Furlong and Quirk indicated that the youngest children who had Head Start preschool experience showed higher levels of school readiness than the oldest children with no reported preschool experience.
Preschool experience has the greatest impact on children’s future academic success. Furlong and Quirk found that “there was no significant interaction between age and pre-school experience on school readiness” (Furlong & Quirk [in review]). Therefore, the efficacy of a child’s preschool experience is not contingent upon his/her age. Such results show that academic “redshirting,” or holding younger children a year back from being enrolled into kindergarten, is not recommended.
Although much emphasis is placed on preparing children for school, students with low readiness can be helped. All is not lost, according to Quirk, “Children who were found not yet ready for school should not be pulled out of kindergarten and be held back another year. The child, instead, should be given more opportunities to interact with peers, and to learn and explore new ideas and concepts in a rich learning setting.” Furlong and Quirk recommend that parents provide their children with high quality preschool experiences, which include significant exposure to print and language rich environments, phonemic awareness, and appropriate social interactions with adults and with peers. All these experiences play a crucial role in stimulating young minds and preparing children for kindergarten and beyond.
Dr. Furlong and Dr. Quirk’s studies on Latino students and school readiness are some of the many ongoing longitudinal research studies taking place at The Center for School-Based Youth Development (CSBYD) in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. CSBYD is home to many community-based collaborative projects dedicated to promoting and enhancing students’ academic, socio-emotional health, and general well-being through strengths-based assessments and targeted intervention modules aimed at improving students’ social and cognitive abilities. Its mission is to conduct studies that investigate the role of school engagement in the immediate lives of children. Such information is then shared among the learning community and to the public to better enhance the quality of life of all students inside and outside the classroom.
One of the center’s many strengths is its alliance to many local school districts and resource centers within Santa Barbara County. Current research projects at the center include: The First Five Commission of Santa Barbara County Kindergarten Student Entrance Profile Study; Safe Schools/Healthy Students Projects with Carpinteria Unified School District and Santa Maria Union High School District; Santa Barbara County Service Learning Initiative, Storyteller Preschool Study; Main Family Resource Center of Carpinteria; and the UCSB Co-Vitalism Study. These programs provide various outreach services tailored to meet the different needs of the families they serve. For more information about The Center for School-Based Youth Development, please contact:
Dr. Michael Furlong, Director
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education
Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology
UC Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9490