Noncognitive Aspects of School Readiness
What does the typical child know at school entry?
A typical child who enters kindergarten in the United States is five-and-a-half years old at the beginning of the school year. What does this typical kindergartner know, and what kinds of early reading and mathematical skills and general knowledge does this child possess?3 Many of the descriptions of first-time kindergartners and the ECLS-K findings reported in these sections come from America's Kindergartners (West, Denton, and Germino-Hausken 2000).
A majority of entering kindergartners (66 percent) can recognize letters of the alphabet by name, whether they are in upper or lower case (figure 1). Many (61 percent) have two or more print familiarity skills such as knowing that English print is read from left to right and from the end of one line to the beginning of the next line and knowing where a story ends.
The ECLS-K found that the modal kindergartner does not yet possess other early reading skills. He or she cannot point to letters representing sounds at the beginning or end of simple words, read basic words by sight, or read more complex words in the context of a sentence. Of five proficiency levels identified in the ECLS-K reading assessment, the average kindergartner had attained the first level, but no more. Two-thirds successfully performed tasks at this level.
Most first-time kindergartners (94 percent) can recognize some single-digit numerals, identify simple geometric figures like squares and circles, and count to 10 (figure 2). Many of the children (58 percent) can recognize all single-digit numbers, count beyond 10, identify the similarities in patterns, and compare the relative length of objects using nonstandard units. Kindergarten teachers can build on these skills to help children learn basic number operations and other mathematical skills.
On the other hand, relatively fewer kindergartners (20 percent) can read a two-digit numeral; identify the ordinal position of an object (e.g., third flower in a row of flowers); or recognize the next number in a sequence (e.g., 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10). Also, very few (4 percent) can do simple addition or subtraction or do simple multiplication or division (less than 1 percent). Of five proficiency levels identified in the ECLS-K mathematics assessment, a majority of kindergartners (58 percent) have attained the second level.
3 The kindergarten pupils described throughout this essay are those who are in their first year of kindergarten. (back to text)