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Latest 'Kindergarten Readiness' study finds roughly one-quarter of Springfield kids 'not prepared' to start school

Brandy Harris with the Springfield Mayor's Commission for Children opens a meeting on April 11, 2023 in which the 2022 Kindergarten Readiness Study was revealed.
Gregory Holman/KSMU
Brandy Harris with the Springfield Mayor's Commission for Children opens a meeting on April 11, 2023 in which the 2022 Kindergarten Readiness Study was revealed.

For nearly two decades, Springfield has been trying to better prepare children for kindergarten. A series of studies show that most of Springfield’s kids are ready, academically and socially, when they get to their first day of school. But not much progress has been made in terms of lowering the number of kids who aren’t prepared.

The Mayor’s Commission for Children conducted its latest Kindergarten Readiness Study last fall and released the results Tuesday morning. Since 2006, the city-appointed group started issuing studies like this every few years.

The 2022 study was the sixth one in the series. It used an anonymous sample of 360 Springfield kindergarteners — out of almost 1,800 who were attending Springfield Public Schools last year.

Dr. Grenita Lathan is Springfield Public Schools superintendent. She took over as leader of Missouri’s biggest school district in July 2021 — long after the Mayor’s Commission for Children was formed in 2004.

She said, “Definitely the school district should be the champion and kind of the lead partner, in addressing this and reducing the number of students that are arriving not prepared as they move into kindergarten. I would say though it is a community-wide problem or area that we need to address.”

The latest report found that 23.9 percent of the kindergarteners were deemed “not prepared.” The stated goal of the Mayor’s Commission for Children was to shrink that number to 10 percent by 2023. Springfield missed that goal by almost 13 percentage points.

Missouri State University professor Melissa Fallone crunched the numbers and found that in 2022, the group of kindergarteners identified as “not prepared” was statistically similar in size to all of the groups from the five earlier Kindergarten Readiness studies. Meaning that since 2006, roughly 20 to 25 percent of Springfield kids were consistently found “not prepared” for their first day of kindergarten.

Dr. Fallone presented two conclusions from the most recent report, the first since 2018 and the first since the COVID pandemic temporarily disrupted in-person schooling.

First conclusion: More Springfield children are attending preschool or other pre-kindergarten programs than in the past.

Second conclusion: Those pre-K programs are important for getting children ready to start school, especially for students whose families are dealing with poverty.

The study did not examine factors like race or ethnicity, but it did look at factors related to poverty and prosperity — like whether students accessed free or reduced-cost lunch resources. The current study didn’t find a statistical difference between girls and boys, as far as kindergarten readiness.

Springfield City Councilman Matt Simpson was at the study reveal Tuesday morning. For Simpson, community progress looks like early childhood education through preschool, as well as other programs like Wonder Years at Springfield Public Schools or Racing to Read at the Springfield-Greene County Library.

Simpson said, “I think that that is very telling. The results from students that went through those early childhood programs of any socioeconomic category are significantly improved.”

When asked if the city should be doing anything differently to get kids ready for kindergarten, Simpson said continuing progress made through the community partners assembled in the Mayor’s Commission for Children would be the “key thing.”

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.