Study: The Pandemic Disrupted Children’s Readiness for Kindergarten

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Between 2018 and 2021, kindergarten-readiness dropped by 10%.

Only 30% of kindergarten-aged children were ready to attend kindergarten during the pandemic in 2021, according to the results of a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. This was a 10% dip from 2018, which reflects a disruption in learning and development among pre-kindergarten-aged children caused by the pandemic, according to authors.

“This means that 7 of every 10 children in the Cincinnati Public Schools were considered not ready to learn when they entered kindergarten during the pandemic,” said lead study author Kristen Copeland, MD, Division of General and Community Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, in the article. “This trend was even more pronounced among the more-disadvantaged, Medicaid-covered children we see in our primary care clinics.”

Image credit: Nina/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com

Image credit: Nina/peopleimages.com - stock.adobe.com

Investigators with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital conducted a study to understand how the pandemic impacted children’s readiness to attend kindergarten. The team collaborated with the Cincinnati Public Schools system to evaluate how children scored on the state-required Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) in 2018, 2019, and 2021, collecting KRA scores from 8000 children in the Cincinnati Public Schools and 3200 students who received care at a Cincinnati Children’s primary care site.

The KRA asks children to complete 27 questions and tasks to measure early reading and mathskills, along with gross motor and fine motor tasks, self-regulation, and attention. Then, the team linked KRA scores to data collected from assessments evaluating development and early reading exposures.

The team also looked at the connection between KRA scores, family characteristics, and other factors like financial hardships, food security, primary language spoken at home, race and ethnicity, and maternal stress or depressive symptoms—factors that can influence readiness to succeed in kindergarten.

“To our knowledge, this is among the first and the largest studies to use real-world data to analyze protective and risk factors for school readiness among a population that has been traditionally reluctant to participate in research studies,” Copeland said in the article.

The results indicate that children who came from disadvantaged backgrounds were at greater risk of not being ready to succeed in kindergarten. Risk factors include previously failing a developmental screening assessment (between ages of 18 months and 5 years), having Medicaid insurance, being of Hispanic ethnicity, living in a family that requires medical interpreters at clinical visits, being of male sex, having low exposure to early reading, and having a history of food insecurity.

Resources such as speech therapy, legal aid, benefits assistance, food banks, help with preschool enrollment, and high-quality childcare allow children to improve factors that influence kindergarten readiness, said Copeland. In addition, community organizations can do more to help families support learning and development before kindergarten, according to investigators.

“These cross-sector linkages highlight the urgency for primary care organizations to become more involved in promoting equitable early child development, not just in Cincinnati but across the United States,” said co-author Robert Kahn, MD, MPH, director of the Fisher Child Health Equity Center at Cincinnati Children’s, in the article.

REFERENCE

Study confirms fears that COVID pandemic reduced kindergarten readiness. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. News Release. February 5, 2024. Accessed on February 7, 2024. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/1033425

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