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New Data about Delaware’s Earliest Learners Reveal Need and Opportunity

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In Delaware, we’ve known for years the importance of getting off to a great start. By the time a child celebrates his or her fifth birthday, nearly 90 percent of intellect, personality, and social skills are already developed. And when children arrive to kindergarten ready to learn, their chances to thrive in school skyrockets.

 

Thanks to some key investments and programmatic support, the state’s early childhood education system has come a long way in recent years. One of the most helpful new tools at our disposal is the Delaware Early Learner Survey (DE-ELS)—a snapshot of kindergarten readiness that became available statewide this year for the first time ever.

 

With DE-ELS, kindergarten teachers observe and record children’s knowledge and skills at the beginning of the school year that lead to success in kindergarten and through life: language and literacy development; cognition; approaches toward learning; physical well-being and motor development; and social-emotional development.

 

So what did this new, important data tell us? For starters, we know that we still have much more work to do. Although incoming kindergarteners are strongest on literacy than other areas, only two-thirds are at the level that’s expected developmentally for five-year-olds. We know early literacy is a huge indicator of future success (in school and in life), and we are committed to doing more to support young learners.

 

And the needs are even greater in areas like cognition and language, which are building blocks for future learning. About half of Delaware children are already behind before they start kindergarten.

 

We are committed to leading the way and using this new information for its intended purposes:

  • Help teachers customize instruction to meet children’s developmental needs.
    • We now have a tool that is used by early learning providers (who serve children before they get to kindergarten) and elementary schools—they can now talk the same language and share information. And they are doing just that at the local level, thanks to the Readiness Team efforts. We must ensure it is used widely to share data, to improve instruction, and to support children.
    • Teachers need more support. Training is underway to support kindergarten teachers in how to use their students’ data to best meet their needs—and how to teach in ways that are appropriate for five-and six-year-olds, a group that has often been treated similarly to older students, who are in different phases of child development.

 

  • Inform ongoing efforts to improve educational quality. The DE-ELS data will help us as a state:
    • Ensure the investments in quality—including Stars, scholarships for early childhood teachers, screenings, and other efforts—are as impactful as they can be. We now have child data that we have not had before, and we must analyze it to be sure we are maximizing the resources we have.
    • Ensure elementary schools are prepared to support the needs of incoming kindergarteners. We have heard the significance and growth of social and emotional needs for this age group, and now we know that 40 percent of these children need significant support.

 

The Rodel Foundation and United Way of Delaware have a long history of investment in and advocacy for efforts to improve outcomes for young children—including the Delaware Readiness Teams and Delaware STARS, among others. We know this important work will not bear fruit overnight, and we know we can do more—and must.

 

These data are a call to action: It’s time to ask hard questions. Are we serving our young children as well as we can?  How can we do more with the resources we have, and how can we be creative about leveraging other sources? Are our standards for early learning programs high enough—and is minimum wage what this important profession deserves?

 

We look forward to working with partners across the state to focus collective energy to these young learners who need our support.

 

Madeleine Bayard is the chair of the Delaware Early Childhood Council, and Michelle Taylor is the CEO and president of United Way of Delaware.

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