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Kindergerten Readiness DomainKindergerten Readiness Domain

Disparities in Academic Readiness

Last Updated: August 2023 | Suggested Citation

Academic Readiness

Literacy development begins early, long before children enter formal instruction in reading and writing.12 Parents and other family members can introduce young children to literacy and the world of books in different ways, including reading to them; telling stories; teaching letters, words, or numbers; and visiting a library. This indicator is examined by a contextual measure related to academic readiness – home literacy activities over the past week or month13 – for 3- to 5-year-old children who were not yet in kindergarten, as reported by their parents, by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status measures (family income and parental education). In addition, this indicator is examined by two direct measures – reading and mathematics skills at kindergarten entry.

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In 2019, higher percentages of children ages 3–5 who were White (91 percent) and of Two or more races (89 percent) had a family member read to them three or more times in the past week than did children who were Asian (81 percent), Hispanic (77 percent), or Black (75 percent). However, there were no measurable differences by race/ethnicity in the percentage of children who were taught letters, words, or numbers by a family member.

Figure 1. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten, by type and frequency of home literacy activity and child's race/ethnicity: 2019 

Figure 1. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten, by type and frequency of home literacy activity and child's race/ethnicity: 2019

NOTE: All information is based on parent reports. Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. Excludes a small number of non-Hispanic children whose parents did not choose any race from the categories provided on the race item in the questionnaire. Data for Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaska Native 3- to 5-year-olds were not included because reporting standards were not met. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. 

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES: 2019). See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 207.10

In 2019, there were also no measurable differences by mother’s highest level of educational attainment in the percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten who were taught letters, words, or numbers by a family member at least once in the past week. However, participation in other home literacy activities differed by mother’s highest level of educational attainment.

  • Higher percentages of children whose mothers had a graduate/professional degree (93 percent) and whose mothers had a bachelor’s degree14 (89 percent) than of children whose mothers had completed only high school15 (80 percent) and whose mothers did not complete high school (71 percent) were read to by a family member three or more times in the past week.
  • Higher percentages of children whose mothers had a graduate/professional degree (52 percent) and whose mothers had a bachelor’s degree (43 percent) than of children whose mothers had completed only high school (29 percent) and whose mothers did not complete high school (26 percent) visited a library with a family member at least once in the past month.
  • The percentages of children who were told a story by a family member at least once in the past week were also higher for those whose mothers had a graduate/professional degree (89 percent) and those whose mothers had a bachelor’s degree (88 percent) than for those whose mothers did not complete high school (79 percent), but they were not measurably different from those whose mothers had completed only high school (85 percent).

Figure 2. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten, by type and frequency of home literacy activity and mother’s highest level of education: 2019

Figure 2. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten, by type and frequency of home literacy activity and mother’s highest level of education: 2019

1Includes those who completed high school through equivalency programs, such as a GED program.

NOTE: All information is based on parent reports. Excludes children living in households with no mother or female guardian present. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES: 2019). See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 207.10

In 2019, similar to the patterns by race/ethnicity and by mother’s highest level of educational attainment, the percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten who were taught letters, words, or numbers by a family member at least once in the past week did not differ by family income level. However, there were measurable differences between the top and bottom levels of family income for other home literacy activities.

  • Percentages of children who were read to by a family member three or more times in the past week were higher for children whose family income was over $100,000 (91 percent) and $75,001 to $100,000 (86 percent) than for those whose family income was $20,000 or less (75 percent).
  • The percentage of children who visited a library with a family member at least once in the past month was higher for children whose family income was over $100,000 (43 percent) than for children whose family income was $20,000 or less (34 percent).
  • The percentages of children who were told a story by a family member at least once in the past week was also higher for children whose family income was over $100,000 (89 percent) than for children whose family income was $20,000 or less (81 percent).
  • There were no measurable differences in any of the four home literacy activities among children in households with middle levels of family income ($20,001 to $50,000, $50,001 to $75,000, and $75,001 to $100,000) when comparing these three groups to each other.

Figure 3. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten, by type and frequency of home literacy activity and family income: 2019

Figure 3. Percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in kindergarten, by type and frequency of home literacy activity and family income: 2019

NOTE: All information is based on parent reports. Family income is reported in current dollars. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data. 

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Program Participation Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ECPP-NHES: 2019). See Digest of Education Statistics 2020, table 207.10

Findings on differences in home literary activities in this indicator come from Home Literacy Activities with Young Children in the Condition of Education.

Differences among demographic groups in cognitive knowledge and skills have been demonstrated at relatively early ages in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011) using direct assessments in mathematics and reading. Possible scores for the study’s mathematics assessment range from 0 to 159, and possible scores for the reading assessment range from 0 to 167.

  • In fall 2010, average mathematics scores were higher for kindergartners from high-SES families (43) than for those from low-SES families (29).
  • Kindergartners from high-SES families had higher early reading scores (61) than did those from low-SES families (49).
  • White and Asian kindergartners had higher mathematics scores (39 and 41, respectively) than their Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native peers (32, 31, and 33, respectively).
  • Average early reading scores in fall 2010 were higher for White and Asian kindergartners (56 and 59, respectively) than for their Black, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native (50) peers (53, 51, and 50, respectively).

Findings from this section of the indicator come from Chapter 2: Elementary and Secondary Education from the Digest of Education Statistics 2019. For more information on differences in reading and mathematics skills at kindergarten entry, including differences by sex, household type, and primary home language, see tables 220.40 and 220.41 from the Digest of Education Statistics 2019.

12Terrell, P. and Watson, M. (2018). Laying a Firm Foundation: Embedding Evidence-Based Emergent Literacy Practices Into Early Intervention and Preschool Environments. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 49(2): 148–164. https://doi.org/10.1044/2017_LSHSS-17-0053.

13Refers to the past week or month before parents were surveyed.

14Includes those with some graduate school but no graduate/professional degree.

15Includes those who completed high school through equivalency programs, such as a GED program.

Suggested Citation

National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Academic Readiness. Equity in Education Dashboard.. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from [URL].