A child's school readiness involves all aspects of development, including the ability to follow directions, hold a crayon, speak understandably, identify shapes/letters/numbers, share with others, and separate from parents without being upset.
Why is This Important?
In order to fully benefit from the instruction provided in kindergarten, children must come to school with many fundamental skills already established. Years of research on child development and early learning show that several interrelated areas of development define school readiness:
- Physical well-being and motor development
- Personal and social development
- The child's approach to learning
- Language development
- Cognition and general knowledge
These areas of development are important because they build on one another and form the foundation of learning and social interaction.
How is Virginia Doing?
While no uniform single "readiness" assessment is widely used for all aspects of development, Virginia does use a screening tool to identify students who are at risk for reading difficulties. The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening for Kindergarten (PALS-K) assessment is a screening tool used to identify students who are below kindergarten-level expectations in important literacy fundamentals. Students identified below these grade-level benchmarks are provided with additional instruction through Virginia's Early Intervention Reading Initiative (EIRI).
Because the initial screening with PALS-K is conducted in the fall of each school year, the results reflect how well-prepared children come to school in terms of literacy fundamentals. Testing using the PALS-K assessment began in 2004. Scores steadily improved until 2012, when every region but one saw a decline. The Virginia average of kindergartners who met or exceeded the PALS-K benchmark dropped a bit, from 87.6 percent to 87.1 percent. The Hampton Roads region continued to lead the state with 90.8 percent at or above the benchmark, followed by the Northern region at 87.4 percent. The Eastern region improved performance by 3 percentage points (from 83.7% in 2011 to 86.7% in 2012).
The PALS-K is designed as an assessment of literacy readiness and is not intended as a comprehensive measure of school readiness. Some school divisions use more broad-ranging assessments. The Work Sampling System is a research-based assessment that charts children's growth in personal and social development, language and literacy, mathematical thinking, scientific thinking, social studies, the arts, and physical development and health. Because this assessment is not used in all school divisions, statewide data is not available.
What Influences School Readiness?
Many factors affect student readiness for school. A lack of prenatal care and low birth weight (commonly associated with teenage pregnancies) are health-related factors; while poverty, abuse or neglect and even the education level of the mother are socioeconomic factors potentially affecting a child’s readiness for school. High-quality preschool programs support school readiness; longitudinal studies of high-quality early childhood programs find increased test scores, decreased rates of being held back a grade in school, and decreased placement in special education among low-income children. Longer-term studies also find increased high school graduation and decreased crime and delinquency rates.
Evidence shows that it is not only low-income students who may benefit from preschool. Nationwide, nearly half (49 percent) of children who enter kindergarten without the ability to recognize the letters of the alphabet are middle-income children. Twelve percent of middle-income children repeat a grade in school.
What is the State's Role?
Because most of the factors affecting school readiness are largely beyond the reach of the school system, the state's role is to act as a catalyst for positive change. Local governments and community agencies work to decrease teen births, increase maternal educational levels, enhance prenatal care, and reduce environmental hazards such as lead-based paint.
The state also has a role in early intervention programs for children from birth to three years, access to quality preschool, and child health insurance programs. In addition, through assessments like PALS-K, the state can help identify students who are insufficiently prepared and provide additional resources to meet the needs of those children.
Data Definitions and Sources
University of Virginia, Department of Curriculum, Instruction & Special Education
2010 KIDS COUNT Data Book,
Additional Annie E. Casey Foundation resources are also available:
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.