Ready for Kindergarten? A Review of State Practices

SUMMARY: A new research brief released today provides an overview of state Early Learning Guidelines (ELGs) and school readiness assessments. Child Trends’ A Review of School Readiness Practices in the States also outlines key policy considerations for developing and utilizing school readiness assessments at the state level. Researchers analyzed state approaches to school readiness assessments in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, identifying seven states that utilize assessments in order to monitor statewide levels of school readiness.


Every year, more than three million children enroll in a public kindergarten program, according to the US Department of Education. Research has shown a significant achievement gap already exists between low-income children and their more affluent peers at kindergarten entry. Gaps have been identified in a number of critical areas, including cognitive development, social-emotional development, and health status. To improve long-term academic outcomes, increased attention is being given to supporting and assessing school readiness and identifying successful, evidence-based programs in early childhood that can ensure a more even start at school.  This brief includes a complete list of state early learning guidelines and states’ current school readiness assessment practices for children in kindergarten.


Among the brief’s findings:


  1. 1.    Though all states have early learning guidelines around what children should know and be able to do by kindergarten entry, very few states (just seven) administer a school readiness assessment to children upon school entry to monitor statewide readiness. The seven states with such assessments are: Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Minnesota, and Vermont.
  2. 2.    States that monitor school readiness of kindergarten children in aggregate statewide can use the data to inform policy and investment decisions.


Policy Considerations


School readiness is more than academics. Assessments that consider children’s physical, social, and emotional progress will be most effective in supporting school readiness. Brief author, Sarah Daily stated, “School readiness is about more than knowing letters and numbers. To be successful in school, children also need to demonstrate skills such as problem solving, self control and cooperation. These are complex skills to measure and assess.”


Align standards in developmentally appropriate ways. Care must be taken not to align ELGs too narrowly to the new national Common Core standards in ways that might fail to reflect what research tells us is important for child development. When considering alignment, states should focus on creating smooth transitions from children’s early care and education settings to kindergarten, and ensure that the skills and abilities children are expected to obtain across multiple developmental areas are appropriate, realistic and achievable over time.


Carefully consider the challenges associated with assessing young children. States should take care when assessing young children, including clearly defining the purpose and use of the results to ensure the assessment is “reliable, valid, and fair” for the intended purpose.


Readiness depends on supportive families, schools and communities. High-quality comprehensive services are equally critical for at-risk children’s overall well-being and academic success. In addition to considering the academic and developmental supports children need to be prepared for school, states should also consider what supports are needed to have ‘ready schools’ and ‘ready communities.’ Brief author Dr. Tamara Halle stated, “Statewide school readiness assessments help policymakers monitor how “ready for school” children are over time.  But without high-quality services for at-risk children during the early years, and schools that are ready to receive children from diverse backgrounds and with varying needs, it is likely we will continue to see wide variation in children’s school readiness skills upon entering kindergarten.”


A Review of School Readiness Practices in the States by Sarah Daily, M.Ed., Mary Burkhauser, M.S.T. and Tamara Halle, Ph.D. is part of Child Trends’ Early Childhood Highlightsseries, which summarize the latest research on early childhood. Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development. Follow this and other early childhood research on Twitter at