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Covid-19 pandemic setbacks reduced kindergarten readiness 

In a study led by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, researchers have brought to light the profound impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on kindergarten readiness among children. 

The research, focusing on the 22 million children under age 6 who were not yet enrolled in school during the pandemic, reveals a concerning decline in preparedness for school life, particularly among disadvantaged families.

Drop in readiness scores

The experts analyzed data from approximately 8,000 kindergartners who underwent the state-required Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) in the years 2018, 2019, and 2021. The group included 3,200 children receiving care through Cincinnati Children’s primary care clinics. 

The results showed that in 2021, only 30% of students in Cincinnati public schools were assessed as kindergarten-ready, a significant drop from the 40% readiness rate observed in 2018. Among the children cared for at Cincinnati Children’s primary care sites, the readiness rate fell from 32% in 2018 to 21.5% in 2021.

Major disruption 

“This means that 7 of every 10 children in the Cincinnati Public Schools were considered not ready to learn when they entered kindergarten during the pandemic. This trend was even more pronounced among the more-disadvantaged, Medicaid-covered children we see in our primary care clinics,” said study lead author Dr. Kristen Copeland. “It will take intense effort on multiple levels to help these children overcome this disruption.”

Influential factors

The researchers investigated various factors that could influence a child’s readiness for kindergarten, including family financial hardships, food security, primary language spoken at home, the child’s race and ethnicity, and maternal stress or depressive symptoms. 

The team identified several risk factors for lower kindergarten readiness, such as failed developmental screenings, Medicaid coverage, Hispanic ethnicity, need for medical interpreters, male gender, infrequent reading at home, and previous experiences of food insecurity.

“To our knowledge, this is among the first and the largest studies to use real-world data to analyze protective and risk factors for school readiness among a population that has been traditionally reluctant to participate in research studies,” said Dr. Copeland.

Silver lining

Despite these challenges, the research team found reasons for optimism. Many of the factors limiting readiness are measurable during primary care visits, and interventions to address these issues are already within reach. 

“The good news is that we identified several factors that predicted later kindergarten readiness that we already measure during primary care visits,” said Dr. Copeland. 

“Furthermore, we have in primary care ways to quickly get kids the additional help they need, be it speech therapy, legal aid, benefits assistance, food pantry or produce delivery, or hands-on assistance in enrolling in preschool, high quality childcare and Head Start.”

Study implications 

The study not only sheds light on the impact of the pandemic on early childhood development but also underscores the importance of strengthening collaborations between healthcare providers, schools, and community organizations to support children’s preparation for school. 

Such partnerships, exemplified by the ongoing collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s and Cincinnati Public Schools, are vital for overcoming data-sharing barriers and enhancing early child development support systems.

“These cross-sector linkages highlight the urgency for primary care organizations to become more involved in promoting equitable early child development, not just in Cincinnati but across the United States,” said study co-author Dr. Robert Kahn.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics

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