Only 1 in 4 kindergartners really ready for school, survey shows

  • Grace Vanderkolk takes student attendance in a full-day kindergarten class at Parkview Elementary School in Carpentersville. Roughly 30 percent of incoming kindergartners at Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 meet readiness bench marks, according to a state report.

      Grace Vanderkolk takes student attendance in a full-day kindergarten class at Parkview Elementary School in Carpentersville. Roughly 30 percent of incoming kindergartners at Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 meet readiness bench marks, according to a state report. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, 2015

Updated 9/4/2018 3:08 PM

Only one in four Illinois children enters kindergarten fully ready to learn, and the rest need additional support, according to a new state report offering a snapshot of students' developmental readiness.

The Illinois State Board of Education recently released the first year of data from the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey, or KIDS, an observational tool designed to help teachers, administrators, families and policymakers better understand how prepared students are when they enter kindergarten.


The results highlight the need for more funding for preschool programs as well as equity issues with access to early learning, educators say.

Teachers statewide began using KIDS last fall after the state piloted the survey for five years with select districts. Within the first 40 days of school, kindergarten teachers observed and collected data on 14 required readiness measures.

Students demonstrate kindergarten readiness if they display the skills, knowledge and behavior needed for learning across three development areas: social and emotional, language and literacy, and math cognition.

Statewide, 97 percent of school districts participated in KIDS in 2017, rating 81 percent of all kindergartners on the 14 required measures.

Of the 106,670 kindergartners surveyed, 24 percent demonstrated readiness in all three developmental areas, while 42 percent did not. Fewer black and Latino students met readiness bench marks than Asian and white peers. Low-income students receiving free or reduced-price lunches demonstrated lower readiness when entering kindergarten.

How prepared students show up for kindergarten probably is "not a fair indication" of how well they will perform going forward, said David Wilm, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Wauconda Unit District 118.

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Only 3 percent of District 118's incoming kindergartners met readiness bench marks in all three areas last year.

"We utilize local bench marks to measure progress in kindergarten," said Wilm, adding students are measured three times during the year. "We can't wait to make our instructional decisions based on when we get (KIDS) results back from the state. We do formative assessments, which tells (teachers) how their students are growing, where they need help, where they need to be pushed."

Closing gaps

Experts say KIDS data underscores the importance of investing in and creating strong early childhood programs.

Only 35 percent of Illinois students were reading at grade level in fourth grade, according to a 2016-17 report by Advance Illinois, an independent education policy and advocacy organization.

"Now, the KIDS data is showing us that those gaps start much earlier ... which really cries out for the early childhood system and the K-12 system to be better aligned," said Ginger Ostro, Advance Illinois executive director.

"When we look at districts' efforts to meet the state's accountability goals, an important part of the focus has to be on the early years because it is very hard to close gaps once they have opened."


Some districts with robust preschool programs are analyzing the KIDS data to see how those students performed compared to peers who didn't have access to preschool.

"It's an equity issue," said Victorene King, director of strategic initiatives and accountability for Des Plaines Elementary District 62. "You can see the difference between people who have access to prekindergarten programs, day care versus those who don't."

Only 6 percent of District 62's low-income students -- those eligible for free and reduced-price lunches -- entering its half-day kindergarten program last year met readiness bench marks compared to 12 percent of all other students.

Many low-income families often can't afford or don't have access to preschool programs. District 62's own preschool is bursting at the seams with 214 students, and officials are increasing social emotional supports -- hiring a district instructional/behavioral specialist -- and other resources for those early learners this year so they are better prepared for kindergarten, King said.

The monthly cost of preschool -- typically $1,000 to $2,000 -- can pose a challenge for many suburban families, said Fred Heid, superintendent of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, where 31 percent of incoming kindergartners met all readiness bench marks.

"We do not mandate preschool participation in the state. I just don't know how credible I find the results when you can't control the preschool environments," Heid said.

District 300 has 617 students enrolled in its preschool and is among a few suburban districts offering full-day kindergarten with 1,329 students enrolled this school year. Heid supports the notion of universal preschool and mandating full-day kindergarten statewide with full funding from the state.

"Kindergarten and preschool programs need to be well-rounded with inclusion of arts, music, physical activity, exploratory activities, play-based learning, but infused in that there should be early literacy and early numeracy," Heid said.

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