We Need to Debate School Readiness

Nov 22, 2022 at 03:03 pm by JC Bowman

Submitted Commentary - School readiness is an important part of early learning. We would be wise to consider a child’s physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development before enrolling them in school.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) has now released research on kindergarten readiness and academic performance, which every stakeholder and policymaker should examine. The Kindergarten Readiness and Academic Performance Report could help improve education results across the state in the future.

OREA found that students who enrolled in kindergarten older than their peers performed better on third-grade literacy tests. On average, 41 percent of students aged 5.5 to 5.9 years old, and 42 percent of students aged 6 to 6.49 were proficient in third-grade literacy. These rates are higher than the proficiency rates for younger age groups; 33 percent of students aged 4.5 to 4.9 at kindergarten enrollment and 35 percent of students aged 5 to 5.49 were proficient in third-grade literacy. This trend of older students outperforming their younger peers continued past third grade as measured by students’ later performance on sixth-grade ELA tests.

In plain language, researchers found that the older a student enters school, the better they perform in the third and sixth grades. Data shows students who entered kindergarten at six or older scored about 10 percent higher on the third-grade English Language Arts test than their peers under five. Talking to Fox 17 News Reporter Jackie Delpilar, Chairman Scott Cepicky raised this question: “If we have a student who entered (school) too early, who doesn't have the time in the system to mature and develop, are we setting that student up for failure?”

Policymakers will need to take a deeper dive to explore a correlation between a child’s age when he or she begins kindergarten. OREA pointed out that parents should use the information to help determine the appropriate age for their child to begin kindergarten, and schools may use it to tailor services or adjust curriculum accordingly. However, they did offer a word of caution: More extensive research should precede any state or district policy changes regarding kindergarten enrollment requirements to limit the effects of selection bias, or consider factors like race, ethnicity, economically disadvantaged status, and gender.

Many educators believe chronological age plays a part in a child's school readiness. Naturally, children will enter kindergarten with various levels of skill and readiness. Additionally, children who struggle in school may lack family support or have less access to needed resources. One of the greatest global literacy programs, Imagination Library, began in Sevier County Tennessee by Country Singer and Humanitarian Dolly Parton. This program mails free, high-quality books to children from birth to age five, no matter their family’s income. The purpose is to prepare children to learn to read and receive a quality education.

All children, regardless of cultural background or family or school structure, benefit when foundational building blocks of safety, security, and ability to engage are in place. The U.S. Department of Education and the state of Tennessee define the five domains of school readiness as Language and literacy development, Cognition and general knowledge (including early mathematics and early scientific development) Approaches toward learning, Physical well-being and motor development, and Social and emotional development.

Representative Cepicky stated, “When the data came back, it is saying that this is something we need to look at. But we must do it in a way that we do not hurt economically disadvantaged, or minorities. What we want to do is put them on a level playing field. And that is the best thing we can do is provide all supports to all these kids, knowing that cognitively and emotionally they are on a level playing field.”

A child’s first years in school will determine the rest of their academic career. For that reason, it is important to make sure that all children are ready socially, emotionally, intellectually, and physically to enter their formal education. This issue needs to be addressed by policymakers at the General Assembly and we need to give all students the support they need. It begins with looking at when students enter our schools.


Submitted by JC Bowman, the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. 

Sections: Education