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Think Tank on School Readiness: Beginning the Conversation to Describe School Readiness in South Carolina

On Wednesday, the Institute for Child Success hosted a Think Tank on School Readiness to focus on beginning a conversation on a description of school readiness in our state. A common understanding of the concept of kindergarten readiness will afford more children the opportunity to enter school prepared to succeed.  Twenty-four people attended representing state agencies (Department of Education, First Steps to School Readiness, Education Oversight Committee, and Department of Social Services), the Children’s Trust, various First Steps County partnerships, the United Way Association of South Carolina and several local United Ways, early learning collaborations, and several universities from across the state (University of South Carolina, South Carolina State University and Clemson University). The stakeholders are knowledgeable education and early childhood development leaders who ensured that a description of school readiness and kindergarten assessment produces information that is useful for families, teachers, and early childhood programs to strengthen their work with young children.

This group was brought together because a statewide description of kindergarten readiness will provide a common framework for understanding and promoting kindergarten readiness across the spectrum of early care and learning environments.  It is important that a statewide kindergarten readiness description be aligned with South Carolina early learning standards and K-12 learning standards.

ICS is driving the efforts to clarify our understanding of school readiness in South Carolina, which we see as a three-step process: defining school readiness, describing school readiness based upon the agreed upon definition, and the development or adoption and implementation of a tool to measure school readiness. These steps are mandated in the ICS-drafted legislation to reform and reauthorize South Carolina First Steps to School Readiness, but they should not be limited to the legislative effort or derive solely from it.

In 2012, ICS convened a group of academic experts on early childhood development from across South Carolina to create a definition of school readiness. This definition became the basis for what has been included in the school readiness legislation. The Think Tank’s effort is the beginning of the process- independent of the mandate in the school readiness legislation, yet hopefully informing that work- to describe school readiness based upon the definition crafted in 2012.

Finally, in order to inform the state’s efforts to fruitfully adopt a school readiness measure, we will host another session, similar to today’s, in June with Rolf Grafwallner, Deputy Superintendent of Education in Maryland and Louise Corwin, Executive Director of Maryland Thrive by Five, to inform the state’s efforts around assessments. In recent months we have also published the paper by Gwynne Goodlett and Leigh Kale D’Amico on kindergarten-entry assessments that highlighted the need for this convening as a prerequisite for the conversations we should be having about assessment.

The group discussed the elements of school readiness across the domains of emotional and social competence, physical health and motor skills, language and literacy, and cognitive/general knowledge and mathematical skills. Further conversations will be held on each of these domains to flesh out the fuller description of school readiness.

Certainly, additional discussions about school readiness descriptions and assessments will be warranted in the future and our colleagues in government will pursue their own processes to make decisions about the description and assessments as pending legislation mandates. All of this is consistent with ICS’ overall approach to inform governmental decision-making about early childhood policy through independent, research-driven policy analysis, convening, and advocacy.

– Katy Sides

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