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Time for kindergarten—are kids ready or not?

January 11, 2018
The Free Lance-Star

Scientific research has taught us that key brain functions are developed in the first years of a child’s life, and that healthy brain stimulation during that period goes a long way in determining the quality of the life that child will lead.

The environment a child is born into, depending largely but not entirely on socio-economic factors, presents an identifiable gap between kids who are prepared for the rigors of kindergarten and those who are not.

In Virginia, according to a study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission released last month, more than one-third of children entering kindergarten are unprepared to do so. Even before these children arrive in a classroom, the study suggests, they are destined to be a step or two behind their peers, and it depends on exactly how their development is lacking as to if and when they will catch up.

JLARC bases much of its report on the findings of the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program, based at the University of Virginia. The state has a longstanding policy of assessing a child’s literacy skills upon entering kindergarten. Now, within a child’s first four to six weeks of kindergarten, the VKRP adds assessments of a child’s mathematics ability, social skills and self-regulation to the mix.

At the start of the 2017-18 school year, only 63 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions were participating in VKRP. They inlcude Fredericksburg and the counties of Stafford and Caroline. No other Fredericksburg-area localities are among the listed participants.

Because less than half of the state’s school divisions participate, there’s no comprehensive data on how many unprepared kindergartners there are across the state. Del. Bobby Orrock, R-Caroline County and chairman of the JLARC, put it this way: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

The panel recommends that the General Assembly require every division in the state to participate in VKRP for a three-year period. To that end, House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, says he will introduce legislation that follows JLARC’s recommendations. As Appropriations chairman, Jones’ support is crucial.