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Kindergerten Readiness DomainKindergarten Readiness

“The first 5 years of life are a time of rapid learning and development that has profound and lasting effects. During this sensitive period, the developing brain is especially primed to create neural networks that support learning and development for years to come

Children who enter kindergarten more ready to grow and learn have an advantage over their peers who are less ready to do so. Lower levels of kindergarten readiness are associated with poorer academic outcomes from elementary to high school.2, 3, 4, 5 This domain, kindergarten readiness, is examined in relation to two indicators—academic readiness and self-regulation and attention skills6 —using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) and the Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES). These indicators are based on recommendations in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) framework. The NASEM report notes that some of the recommended indicators have limitations. Currently, the Equity in Education Dashboard provides data based on published products. Because data in our published products do not always perfectly align with the recommended indicators in the NASEM report, we have indicated where our data differ from recommendations in the report. More findings will be added to the Equity in Education Dashboard over time. Although the measures used in ECLS-K:2011 were designed to assess children’s abilities in various cognitive domains, the ECLS-K:2011 does not specifically define a set of measures as indicators of academic readiness. However, the ECLS program studies such as the ECLS-K:2011 measure concepts that are routinely considered by the research community to be components of academic readiness. Similarly, just as cognitive skills and abilities (as measured by the ECLS assessments) can be considered by many to be important components of academic readiness, many other ECLS measures beyond those included in this report could also be important constructs used by researchers to determine academic readiness. While the ECPP-NHES does not collect data from parent respondents specifically on children’s academic readiness, it does collect parent reports of literacy activities in the home, which are related to academic readiness and provide an important understanding of the context in which children’s academic readiness develops.7 Group differences in this domain are examined across several educational equity dimensions: race/ethnicity, sex,8 and socioeconomic status (SES), wherever the data allow.9

Key Findings on Kindergarten Readiness

The Academic Readiness indicator examines three constructs containing two direct measures—reading skills and mathematics skills at kindergarten entry—and one contextual measure related to academic readiness—home literacy activities such as reading to young children.

  • In 2019, disparities in home literacy activities were present for some but not all activities measured in the ECPP-NHES.
    • Differences by race/ethnicity and mother’s highest level of educational attainment were observed in the percentages of children 3 to 5 years old who had a family member read to them three or more times a week.
    • The percentage of children who were taught letters, words, or numbers by a family member at least once in the past week did not differ by race/ethnicity, mother’s highest education level, or family income levels.
  • Average reading and mathematics scores were higher for first-time kindergartners from high-SES families than for those from low-SES families.10
    • White and Asian kindergartners on average had higher reading and mathematics scores than their Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native peers.

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The Self-Regulation and Attention Skills indicator, which focuses on general school readiness skills, consists of one indirect measure, the Approaches to Learning scale, which includes the constructs of self-regulation and attention skills.

  • In 2011, teachers rated kindergartners on the Approaches to Learning scale.11 Girls were rated higher than boys on this scale.
    • Disparities in the Approaches to Learning ratings were also observed among different racial/ethnic groups; among different socioeconomic levels, as measured by parental education, and poverty status; and by household type.

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1National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Monitoring Educational Equity (pp. 7-8). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2 Duncan, G.J., and Magnuson, K. (2011). The Nature and Impact of Early Achievement Skills, Attention and Behavior Problems. In G.J. Duncan and R.J. Murnane (Eds.), Whither Opportunity: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances (pp. 47-69). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Duncan, G.J., Dowsett, C.J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A.C., Klebanov, P., Pagani, L.S., Feinstein, L., Engel, M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Sexton, H., and Duckworth, K. (2007). School Readiness and Later Achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6): 1428–1446.

4 Huttenlocher, J., Waterfall, H., Vasilyeva, M., Vevea, J., and Hedges, L.V. (2010). Sources of Variability in Children’s Language Growth. Cognitive Psychology, 61(4): 343-365. Available:

5 Sabol, T. J., and Pianta, R. C. (2017). The State of Young Children in the United States: School Readiness. In E. Votruba-Drzal, and E. Dearing (Eds.), Handbook of Early Childhood Development Programs, Practices, and Policies (pp. 1–17). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

The NASEM report describes academic readiness in terms of literacy and mathematics skills; cognitive self-regulation as the processes by which the human psyche exercises control over its functions, states, and inner processes, and attention skills as the extent to which children are able to sit still, concentrate on tasks, persist at a task despite minor setbacks or frustrations, listen and follow directions, and work independently or, conversely, whether they are easily distracted, overactive, or forgetful (NASEM, p. 53-55).

Bracken, S. S., and Fischel, J. E. (2008). Family Reading Behavior and Early Literacy Skills in Preschool Children From Low-Income Backgrounds. Early Education & Development, 19(1): 45–67.

This domain presents a compilation of data from various sources crossing several periods of time. Within each indicator, the term “gender” or “sex” is used as presented by the original data source at the time.

9 Not all equity dimensions, such as race/ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, English learner status, and disability status, are examined for all constructs.

10 Socioeconomic status (SES) was measured by a composite score based on parental education, occupation(s), and household income during the child’s kindergarten year.

11 The Approaches to Learning scale consists of items asking teachers to report how often the children in their classroom exhibited a selected set of learning behaviors (keeps belongings organized; shows eagerness to learn new things; works independently; easily adapts to changes in routine; persists in completing tasks; pays attention well; and follows classroom rules).