New statistic raises important questions

All Alaska children begin school ready to succeed – that’s Best Beginnings’ vision. But how do we know if they are “ready to succeed”?

Here’s a startling new statistic. Fewer than 20 percent of children entering kindergarten in Alaska are prepared in all the ways experts say is important for success in school. That’s according to figures recently provided by the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development (DEED) on the results of the Alaska Developmental Profile (ADP) conducted last fall.

The ADP is an annual assessment of the skills and behaviors of Alaska children entering school (things like strength and coordination, curiosity, ability to regulate impulses, attention to task, and awareness of print concepts). More information about how the ADP works, what it measures, is available here on our website.

Just 17.4 percent of the 10,112 children assessed by their teachers at the start of the 2012-2013 school year received a score of “2” in all 13 areas. A score of “2” means the child demonstrates the skill or behavior 80 percent of the time. A child fully prepared for kindergarten will score “2” in every area.

If 17.4 percent of children are fully prepared, that means 82.6 percent are not. Until now, the only ADP information readily available was as averages for each goal area, not across all areas or domains. Based on that, it was estimated that some 40 percent of Alaska children start school lacking the skills and behaviors they need to succeed.

So are Alaska’s children doing worse?  No, the percentage has hovered right in that area since DEED revised the ADP in 2009 – this is a new way of looking at the data.

What action should we take? What questions should we be asking? Here are a few:

  • Is the ADP the best way to obtain statewide data that covers all the early childhood areas?
  • Are kindergarten teachers getting the training on the ADP they need to have confidence in the results?
  • Is there a correlation between ADP results and 3rd grade reading and math scores?
  • How can we “slice and dice” the data to make sure the right resources get to the right children at the right time?
  • Are all 13 goals areas of equal importance, or should some have greater weight than others?
  • How should this snapshot of Alaska kindergarteners be used to make good policy and funding decisions?

No Alaskan can be satisfied that fewer than 20 percent of our 5-year-olds are fully prepared for the challenges and rewards of their first year of school. It’s been demonstrated over and over again that investing time, energy, and financial resources in the first five years of a child’s life pays big dividends over time, to the individual and to society as a whole. According to Nobel Prize winning University of Chicago Economics Professor James Heckman, “In an era of tight government budgets…the real question is how to use the available funds wisely. The best evidence supports the policy prescription: invest in the very young.”