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Profiles highlight school readiness

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

County-specific data released this week may help school districts improve early childhood education and care by shedding light on kindergarten readiness and the barriers families face in preparing youngsters for the classroom.

The governor's office on Wednesday released the 2014 Early Childhood Profiles for every county in Kentucky. Produced by the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, the profiles include information on the percentage of children deemed ready for kindergarten, as well as a wide range of social, economic and health data.

"The profiles offer an opportunity for families, early childhood professionals and other community members to access current data on the status of early childhood in their area and begin conversations about the strategies they can develop to support young children toward school readiness," said Carol Elder, director of Murray Head Start.

The Early Childhood Profiles show that statewide, an average of 49 percent of children are ready for kindergarten. McCracken ranks slightly above the state average, with 55.5 percent of children qualifying as kindergarten-ready.

Of 13 counties in far western Kentucky, Ballard ranks highest in terms of kindergarten readiness, at 66.7 percent. Livingston and Crittenden counties rank the lowest, at 37.9 percent.

Educators and early childhood advocates hope the profiles will prove useful in raising awareness about the importance of early childhood education.

"Children learn more between (birth) to age 5 than they'll learn the rest of their life. It's a window of opportunity where you can provide meaningful learning experiences that have been proven to impact further school success," Elder said.

Paducah Head Start Director Kristy Lewis said McCracken's profile demonstrates the high quality of the county's early childhood programs, many of which focus on finding ways for families to implement school readiness in their homes, easing the transition into kindergarten. But the profiles also show that work remains.  

"It's important to look at the data and know that, yes, we are above average in some of these areas, but ... we always want to have 100 percent of kids ready. There are always ways we can come up with more school readiness events," she said.

Lewis noted that the readiness rankings are based on the BRIGANCE kindergarten screener.

The screener measures readiness in five domains, but only the measurements of cognitive/general knowledge, language and communication, and physical well-being were used to create each county's composite readiness score.

Lewis said the results of the BRIGANCE screener are useful, but only represent a small piece of the educational puzzle.

"I think as educators and administrators, we have to look at this through a wide lens," she said. "I think it (the screener) is a great piece we have, but I don't think it's the only piece."

The profiles also shed light on key factors such as the number of children living below poverty levels, the quality of early childhood care facilities, the number of children who experienced substantiated abuse and neglect, and the number of births to teenage mothers, among others.

One part of the profile that stuck out to Calloway County educators was the lack of quality child care across the Purchase. They also noted the rates of teen pregnancies and households that speak a language other than English as potentially useful data.

"That kind of data, that family and health services data, it's not stuff that, educationally, I have at my fingertips," said Judy Muehleman, director of special education and preschool coordinator at Murray Independent Schools. "That would be something that would be helpful to a Head Start program."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

The 2014 Early Childhood Profiles assessed kindergarten readiness by compiling three domains of the BRIGANCE kindergarten screener: cognitive/general knowledge, language and communication, and physical well-being.

The state average for kindergarten readiness is 49 percent. The state percentage of children living below 100 percent of the poverty level is 29.9.

Ballard County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 66.7

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 21.5

Caldwell County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 48.7

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 29.3

Calloway County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 55.9

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 18.4

Carlisle County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 59

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 26.1

Crittenden County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 37.9

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 18.4

Fulton County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 51.4

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 56.9

Graves County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 41.9

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 31.9

Hickman County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 46.7

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 53.4

Livingston County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 37.9

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 10.3

Lyon County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 53.5

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 46.4

Marshall County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 55.6

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 23.5

McCracken County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 55.5

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 35.3

Trigg County

Percentage of children ready for kindergarten: 48.2

Percentage of children living below 100% of the federal poverty level: 24.6

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