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Strategies for improving kindergarten readiness — June 2017


What does the research say about indicators for Kindergarten readiness?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on kindergarten readiness indicators. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Ackerman, D. J., & Barnett, W. S. (2005). Prepared for kindergarten: What does “readiness” mean? Rutgers, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research. Retrieved from

From the report: “Stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels agree that a child’s future academic success is dependent on being ready to learn and participate in a successful kindergarten experience. Yet, defining “readiness” can be a difficult endeavor. Due to their different pre-kindergarten education experiences and irregular and episodic development, children enter kindergarten with widely varying skills, knowledge, and levels of preparedness. Parents and teachers also have differing expectations for what children should know and be able to do before starting kindergarten. Furthermore, discussions of readiness do not always include how schools and communities can enhance and support children’s kindergarten readiness, no matter what their socioeconomic status, home language background, or skill level. This policy brief addresses what we know about readiness and how it may be improved.”

Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with Child Trends. (2004). Indicators of child, family and community connections. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

From the summary: “Family indicators typically include measures such as family structure, employment and poverty status, and benefit receipt. However, these indicators do not fully portray how families function as a unit and as part of society. To lay the groundwork for addressing this issue, ASPE contracted with Mathematica Policy Research and Child Trends to produce a chart book of Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections. The chart book presents illustrative examples of how currently available data can be used to generate indicators of the social context of families, and assesses the need for additional data and measures in several domains. A selection of important areas for further development are discussed in the Companion Volume of Related Papers.”

Bryant, C., Connolly, F., Doss, C., Grigg, J., Gorgen, P., & Wentworth, L. (2016). Addressing quandaries in early education through research practice partnerships. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This panel examines research on early education from two research practice partnerships, the Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) with Baltimore City Schools and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Stanford-SFUSD Partnership with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and Stanford University in San Francisco, California. First, it explores how BERC convened the Early Education Data Collaborative (EEDC), a collection of Baltimore agencies that provide services to children from birth through the early elementary years whose goal is to understand how different pathways to kindergarten may be associated with kindergarten readiness and later learning outcomes. Second, it explores a line of research by a Stanford University professor and her team of doctoral students working with SFUSD’s early education department. The Stanford team worked with SFUSD to establish and test a new Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) early literacy assessment aligned to K–12 measures, and also established a kindergarten readiness indicator that has been used by SFUSD over the past three years. The Baltimore sample included 11,897 kindergarten students across two cohorts with matched program and birth records. The San Francisco Transitional Kindergarten study examines literacy outcomes, as measured by the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System, of Kindergarteners enrolled in SFUSD in the 2013–2014 and 2014–2015 school years. The sample contains 6,174 students, 5% of which (309 students) had enrolled in the TK program. Another 17% (1,051 students) attended the district’s Pre-K program. The remainder of the students had the option to attend a Pre-K program offered by San Francisco. Both studies examine the use of longitudinal data sets from large urban school districts with robust early education programs. The Baltimore study provides an analysis comparing kindergarten readiness measures for the three most common pathways to kindergarten: Baltimore City Schools Pre-K, Baltimore City Head Start, and both programs. Preliminary results from the first cohort of students from the Baltimore study show when the mother’s background and the circumstances of the child’s birth are accounted for (Model 2), students with prior experience in only Head Start are more likely to be ready for kindergarten than students who did not attend either program (odds ratio: 1.260; 95% CI: 1.016, 1.563). When the mother’s background and the circumstances of the child’s birth are accounted for (Model 2), children who attended both Head Start and BCPS Pre-K are nearly four times as likely to be identified as ready for kindergarten as children from neither program (odds ratio: 3.904; 95% CI: 3.058, 4.983). Children who attended only BCPS Pre-K were three times as likely to be ready for kindergarten than children who attended neither program (odds ratio: 3.314; 95% CI: 2.744, 4.009) when family background is taken into account. Preliminary results from the SFUSD Transitional Kindergarten (TK) study indicate that the program may have increased fall student literacy outcomes. Fall results, however, indicate that TK students are not more likely to be able to read books.”

Grissmer, D., Grimm, K. J., Aiyer, S. M., Murrah, W. M., & Steele, J. S. (2010). Fine motor skills and early comprehension of the world: Two new school readiness indicators. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1008–1017. Retrieved from and related research brief retrieved from

From the abstract: “Duncan et al. (2007) presented a new methodology for identifying kindergarten readiness factors and quantifying their importance by determining which of children’s developing skills measured around kindergarten entrance would predict later reading and math achievement. This article extends Duncan et al.’s work to identify kindergarten readiness factors with 6 longitudinal data sets. Their results identified kindergarten math and reading readiness and attention as the primary long-term predictors but found no effects from social skills or internalizing and externalizing behavior. We incorporated motor skills measures from 3 of the data sets and found that fine motor skills are an additional strong predictor of later achievement. Using one of the data sets, we also predicted later science scores and incorporated an additional early test of general knowledge of the social and physical world as a predictor. We found that the test of general knowledge was by far the strongest predictor of science and reading and also contributed significantly to predicting later math, making the content of this test another important kindergarten readiness indicator. Together, attention, fine motor skills, and general knowledge are much stronger overall predictors of later math, reading, and science scores than early math and reading scores alone.”

Shonkoff, J., & Phillips, D. (Eds.). (2002). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. Retrieved from

From the book description: “How we raise young children is one of today’s most highly personalized and sharply politicized issues, in part because each of us can claim some level of ‘expertise.’ The debate has intensified as discoveries about our development—in the womb and in the first months and years—have reached the popular media. How can we use our burgeoning knowledge to assure the well-being of all young children, for their own sake as well as for the sake of our nation? Drawing from new findings, this book presents important conclusions about nature-versus-nurture, the impact of being born into a working family, the effect of politics on programs for children, the costs and benefits of intervention, and other issues. The committee issues a series of challenges to decision makers regarding the quality of child care, issues of racial and ethnic diversity, the integration of children’s cognitive and emotional development, and more. Authoritative yet accessible, From Neurons to Neighborhoods presents the evidence about ‘brain wiring’ and how kids learn to speak, think, and regulate their behavior. It examines the effect of the climate—family, child care, community—within which the child grows.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children, Youth, and Families, Office of Head Start. (2010). The Head Start child development and early learning framework: Promoting positive outcomes in early childhood programs serving children 3-5 Years old. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This report presents a revision of the Head Start Child Outcomes Framework (2000), renamed The Head Start Child Development and Learning Framework: Promoting Positive Outcomes in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children 3-5 Years Old. The Framework outlines the essential areas of development and learning that are to be used by Head Start programs to establish school readiness goals for their children, monitor children's progress, align curricula, and conduct program planning. It can be used to guide curriculum, implementation, and assessment to plan teaching and learning experiences that align to school readiness goals and track children's progress across developmental domains. The Framework is organized into 11 Domains, 37 Domain Elements, and over 100 Examples. The domains and domain elements are organized in a similar way to the original Framework to facilitate a transition to the revised one. The changes to the revised Framework are designed to provide more clarity to the domains and domain elements of the original Framework and do not create new requirements for Head Start grantees. The early childhood field has changed dramatically. The population of children served by Head Start and other early childhood programs continues to grow more diverse. New research has improved the Office of Head Start's understanding of school readiness, and the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act of 2007 has increased the Framework's role in Head Start programs. In addition, almost every state now has early learning standards. Also, new reporting systems have emerged at the state level and through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) within the U.S. Department of Education. The Framework is revised in light of these realities.”

Other Resources

Auck, A. (2016). 50-state comparison: K–3 quality. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the report: “Education Commission of the States has researched K–3 Quality policies in all states to provide this comprehensive resource. Click on the questions below for 50-state comparisons showing how all states approach specific K–3 Quality policies. Or, choose to view a specific state’s approach by going to the individual state profiles page. Key takeaways:

  • Eighteen states plus D.C. provide guidance for the Pre-K to kindergarten transition process. This guidance often includes written transition plans, family engagement, teacher/provider meetings and assessment data linkages.
  • Some form of teacher preparation and/or professional development in reading is required for educators in K–3 in at least 37 states. Many of these requirements include training on reading instruction, using reading assessment results and providing interventions.
  • Twenty-one states plus D.C. require some level of parental involvement in the promotion/retention process.
  • Thirty-six states plus D.C. emphasize social-emotional learning in grades K–3 in statute, rules or regulations. Usually, social-emotional learning is emphasized in kindergarten entrance assessments, school readiness definitions, and/or teacher training requirements.

See also:

Atchison, B., Workman, E., & Daily, S. (2014). Initiatives from preschool to third grade: A policymakers guide. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the report:Initiatives from Preschool to the Third Grade: A Policymaker’s Guide serves as a reference guide for policymakers, members of the media and others on the most commonly requested topics to the ECS Information Clearinghouse on early learning.”

Auck, A., & Atchison, B. (2016). Companion document: 50-state comparison of K–3 quality. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the report: “This companion report provides highlights from the accompanying 50-State Comparison that outlines key state-level policies implemented across the country that impact K–3 quality.”

Calkins, J., Ling, T., Moore, E., Halle, T., Hair, B., Moore, K., & Zaslow, M. (2002). Basic measures of progress. Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved from

From the legend:

Physical Well-Being and Motor Development
Social and Emotional Development
Language Development
Cognitive Development
Disposition to Learn

Subcondition A. Healthy, Wanted Birth
Subcondition B. Development on Track
Subcondition C. No Preventable Disease or Injury

Subcondition A: Strong Bonds With Primary Caregiver; Structured, Stimulating, Stable Environment at Home
Subcondition B: High Quality Child Care
Subcondition C: Family Economically Secure
Subcondition D: Family Connected to Supportive Networks, Formal and Informal

Subcondition A: Stable, Supportive Neighborhoods, Decent, Affordable Housing, Other Neighborhood Assets
Subcondition B: Safe, Healthy Public Space
Subcondition C: Absence of Abuse, Neglect, Exposure to Violence”

Child Trends. (2015). Early school readiness: Indicators of child and youth well-being. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from

From the report: “School readiness, a multi-dimensional concept, conveys important advantages. Children who enter school with early skills, such as a basic knowledge of math and reading, are more likely than their peers to experience later academic success, attain higher levels of education, and secure employment. Absence of these and other skills may contribute to even greater disparities down the road. For example, one study found that gaps in math, reading, and vocabulary skills evident at elementary school entry explained at least half of the racial gap in high school achievement scores. As conceptualized by the National Education Goals Panel, school readiness encompasses five dimensions: (1) physical well-being and motor development; (2) social and emotional development; (3) approaches to learning; (4) language development (including early literacy); and (5) cognition and general knowledge. The school readiness indicator reported on here includes four skills related to early literacy and cognitive development: a child’s ability to recognize letters, count to 20 or higher, write his or her first name, and read words in a book. While cognitive development and early literacy are important for children’s school readiness and early success in school, other areas of development, like health, social development, and engagement, may be of equal or greater importance. However, although experts agree that social-emotional skills are critically important for school readiness, to date there are no nationally representative data in this area.”

Holliday, M. R., Cimetta, A., Cutshaw, C. A., Yaden, D., & Marx, R. W. (2014). Protective factors for school readiness among children in poverty. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 19(3–4), 125–147. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The economic status of families and their children’s learning outcomes are closely related. For example, children living in poverty tend to score worse on measures of reading and math performance than their more affluent peers, and this achievement gap is present by kindergarten. In this study, we identified protective factors associated with school readiness among an Arizona sample of children living at or below the federal poverty line (N = 230). Using multiple linear regression, we examined the association between assessments of school readiness, health status, childcare hours, home language, parent engagement, and parent education. We found that increased weekly childcare hours and better health were associated with higher proficiency in math, literacy, and approaches to learning, and may serve as resilience factors for children in poverty that may contribute to closing the achievement gap.”

Rhode Island KIDS COUNT, School Readiness Indicators Initiative. (2005). Getting ready— Findings from the National School Readiness Indicators Initiative: A 17 state partnership. Providence, RI: Author. Retrieved from and (indicator selection by state)

From the report: “Too many children enter kindergarten with physical, social, emotional and cognitive limitations that could have been minimized or eliminated through early attention to child and family needs. Ongoing research confirms that children’s readiness for school is multifaceted, encompassing the whole range of physical, social, emotional, language, and cognitive skills that children need to thrive. This multidimensional view of school readiness set the context for a three-year, 17 state initiative supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation and the Ford Foundation. The National School Readiness Indicators Initiative: Making Progress for Young Children was a multi-state initiative that developed sets of indicators at the state level to track results for children from birth through age 8. The goal was for states to use the school readiness indicators to inform public policy decisions and track progress in meeting key goals for young children. The attention to tracking state-level outcomes for the youngest children was a unique focus of the Initiative’s work. State level data are not always available from federal statistical data systems and states often do not organize available data to look specifically at the needs of young children and their families. The task of participating states was to develop a comprehensive set of school readiness indicators from birth through third grade. Research shows that children who are not performing proficiently in reading by the end of third grade are at very high risk for poor long-term outcomes, such as dropping out of school, teen pregnancy and juvenile crime…The full report shares the core set of common indicators and the lessons learned from the collective work of the participating states. The goal of the 17 state Initiative was achieved when states produced state-level reports on the set of school readiness indicators selected by their state team and released the reports to highlight key issues affecting young children in their states. Equally important, the states agreed on a core set of common indicators that had emerged from their state work. It is hoped that this rich list of critical measures—based on hard research and state experiences—will serve as a framework to focus more attention on the needs of the youngest children and their families.

Core indicators [1]

Ready Children

Physical Well-Being and Motor Development
% of children with age-appropriate fine motor skills

Social and Emotional Development
% of children who often or very often exhibit positive social behaviors when interacting with their peers

Approaches to Learning
% of kindergarten students with moderate to serious difficulty following directions

Language Development
% of children almost always recognizing the relationships between letters and sounds at kindergarten entry

Cognition and General Knowledge
% of children recognizing basic shapes at kindergarten entry

Ready Families

Mother’s Education Level
% of births to mothers with less than a 12th grade education

Births to Teens
# of births to teens ages 15–17 per 1,000 girls

Child Abuse and Neglect
Rate of substantiated child abuse and neglect among children birth to age 6

Children in Foster Care
% of children birth to age 6 in out-of-home placement (foster care) who have no more than two placements in a 24-month period

Ready Communities

Young Children in Poverty
% of children under age 6 living in families with income below the federal poverty threshold

Supports for Families with Infants and Toddlers
% of infants and toddlers in poverty who are enrolled in Early Head Start

Lead Poisoning
% of children under age 6 with blood lead levels at or above 10 micrograms per deciliter

Ready Services – Health

Health Insurance
% of children under age 6 without health insurance

Low Birthweight Infants
% of infants born weighing under 2,500 grams (5.5 pounds)

Access to Prenatal Care
% of births to women who receive late or no prenatal care

% of children ages 19–35 months who have been fully immunized

Ready Services – Early Care and Education

Children Enrolled in an Early Education Program
% of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in a center-based early childhood care and education program (including child care centers, nursery schools, preschool programs, Head Start programs, and pre-kindergarten programs)

Early Education Teacher Credentials
% of early childhood teachers with a bachelor’s degree and specialized training in early childhood

Accredited Child Care Centers
% of child care centers accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

Accredited Family Child Care Homes
% of family child care homes accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)

Access to Child Care Subsidies
% of eligible children under age 6 receiving child care subsidies

Ready Schools

Class Size
Average teacher/child ratio in K–1 classrooms

Fourth Grade Reading Scores
% of children with reading proficiency in fourth grade as measured by the state’s proficiency test

Emerging indicators

Assessment of Skills and Behaviors for Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers
% of infants and toddlers with developmentally-appropriate skills and behaviors (in each of the five domains of child development)
% of 3- and 4-year-olds with age-appropriate skills and behaviors (in each of the five domains of child development)

Mathematical Skills
% of children at kindergarten entry who can count beyond 10, sequence patterns and use nonstandard units of length to compare numbers”

Vandivere, S., Pitzer, L., Halle, T. G., & Hair, E. C. (2004). Indicators of early school success and child well-being. Washington, DC: Child Trends Data Bank. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Cognitive skills, engagement in school, social skills, and physical well being are all important for children’s early success in school. However, some groups of children begin kindergarten less ready for school than others and, by the end of first grade, still haven’t ‘caught up’ with their more successful peers. This CrossCurrents brief reports on indicators of cognitive knowledge and skills, social skills, engagement in school, and physical well being among children entering kindergarten and describes how these indicators change as children progress from kindergarten to first grade. In particular, variations in these indicators among socioeconomic and demographic subgroups of children is examined. Newly available, nationally representative data, found that, on the average, all groups of children make progress on five out of seven indicators of well being and development over the first two years of formal schooling, regardless of their socioeconomic or demographic characteristics. However, it was also discovered that children at lower socioeconomic levels, those from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds, those whose parents do not speak English at home, and those who are disabled tend to be less prepared for school upon kindergarten entry. Furthermore, these more vulnerable children fail to catch up to their peers by the end of first grade. These findings illustrate some of the challenges that new education policies are attempting to address. The information presented here highlights the varied skills that contribute to school readiness and can help policymakers, teachers, and parents identify subgroups of children in need of further support to achieve the academic goals set for all children in our nation.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Baltimore Education Research Consortium –

From the website: “The Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) is a partnership of the Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools), Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, and other civic and community partners. BERC’s mission is to conduct and disseminate long- and short-term strategic data analysis and research that informs decisions about policy and practice to improve the educational and life outcomes of children in Baltimore. BERC assembles a diverse coalition of partners to formulate questions worth asking, contribute to conversations worth having, and highlight policy implications worthy of action.”

See “Kindergarten attendance and readiness for Baltimore’s class of 2027.” Retrieved from and
“The costly consequences of not being socially and behaviorally ready by Kindergarten.” Retrieved from

National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) –

From the website: “The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a professional membership organization that works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy, and research. We advance a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children. The association comprises nearly 60,000 individual members of the early childhood community and more than 300 regional Affiliate chapters, all committed to delivering on the promise of high-quality early learning. Together, we work to achieve a collective vision: that all young children thrive and learn in a society dedicated to ensuring they reach their full potential.”

See “Position statement on school readiness and signs of quality programs.” Retrieved from and summary at

National Center for Children in Poverty, Pathways to Early School Success Project – and

From the website:Pathways to Early School Success: Building Local Capacity project (also known as Pathways) was designed to help community-based early childhood coalitions support young children and their families, so that children get off to a strong start in school that will help them succeed in the early grades and beyond. To accomplish this, Pathways worked with early childhood coalitions on community outreach, a needs assessment, and evidence-based strategic planning. We focused on strategic planning in the areas of health and mental health, early childhood care and education, and family support. After conducting a pilot study in Virginia, we implemented the Pathways approach in communities in New York, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, California, and Oregon. We have also worked in a New Hampshire community and supported a statewide effort working with a number of communities across Illinois. Although the initial phase of NCCP’s Pathways work has been completed, the tools developed to support community strategic planning and capacity-building are now available for download.”

[1] This core set of common indicators is based on the national research and informed by the state experiences in selecting measurable indicators relating to and defining school readiness.


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

“Kindergarten readiness” OR “school readiness” AND indicators

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published for the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-00014524, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.