The skills children gain before kindergarten can greatly affect their ability to succeed in school. Consequently, communities have a vested interest in providing resources to support young children, setting them on a path towards success in school and life. A reliable, cost-effective way to measure whether children as a group are on track to enter kindergarten can serve multiple purposes. It can:
- Describe children’s readiness for school in the years leading up to kindergarten entry;
- Identify subgroups of children who are less likely to be on track for school readiness; and
- Be compared year after year in order to assess progress towards the goal of assuring that all children are ready for school.
For years, states and early childhood stakeholders have sought such information. Until 2016, no single data source provided a comprehensive, integrated assessment of children’s health and preparedness for kindergarten for children ages 3-5.
The “Healthy and Ready to Learn” National Outcome Measure (NOM) meets this need. It comes at a time of unprecedented investments in early childhood. This measure, which was developed using data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), includes 18 items that assess children’s health and development across four domains.
How the measure was developed
The Healthy and Ready to Learn NOM reflects years of planning by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Maternal Child Health Bureau (MCHB). In 2016, MCHB added 22 items to the NSCH after gathering input from multiple experts and partner agencies. In 2017, Child Trends worked with HRSA MCHB to examine the data from the 2016 NSCH in a series of steps. This process involved assessing the individual items, sorting the items into domains and developing scales based on a common metric. This work culminated in the development of an overall index of “Healthy and Ready to Learn,” a pilot NOM.
The current “Healthy and Ready to Learn” measure
Based on Child Trends’ analyses, the “Healthy and Ready to Learn” index includes 18 survey questions across four domains:
- Early Learning Skills
- Social-Emotional Development
- Physical Well-Being and Motor Development
Analyses of the 2016 NSCH data using these domains found that 42 percent of children aged three to five were on track in all four domains; 34 percent were on track in three domains; 15 percent were on track in two domains; and nine percent were on track in none or only one of the domains.
The future of the “Healthy and Ready to Learn” measure
Both HRSA MCHB and Child Trends recognize that the “Healthy and Ready to Learn” NOM is still a pilot measure and additional steps are needed to refine and validate it. To validate the measure, we will confirm that it uses the right items, the right domains, and the right overall index. These steps include:
- Gathering expert input on the measure. This input will help refine the items, identify potential new items, assess the response categories and coding, and explore how state-level stakeholders can use the measure.
- Assessing whether the scales and the Healthy and Ready to Learn index are appropriate and valid across subgroups of children. We will test to see if the measure is valid across child ages, child race/ethnicity groups, and child gender.
- Replicating the measure across years. We will re-estimate the measure using the NSCH 2017 data to see if the measure is consistent across 2016 – 2017, particularly given that the response categories changed in the 2017 data.
- Testing the predictive validity of the measure. This validation work is not yet funded but represents an important test of whether scores on the measure predict kindergarten and school success. It requires a longitudinal study of young children.