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Data Guides the ECA Agenda

More than three decades of research have shown that children who enter school ready to learn are more likely to achieve, stay in school, and graduate on time (The Carolina Abecedarian Project). Unfortunately, New York State does not have a state or countywide assessment of kindergarten readiness. It is therefore difficult to accurately pinpoint data that tells us how children are doing as they enter kindergarten.

In Onondaga County, the first time we get a community-level assessment of school readiness for children birth through eight years of age is when students take New York State’s 3rd grade ELA and Math assessments. In 2019, just 40% of the students in Onondaga County and 22% in the Syracuse City School District were reading on grade level by 3rd grade, compared to 52% statewide.

Note: Due to the extraordinary circumstances precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, state assessments were not administered in 2020. In 2021, approximately 4-in-10 enrolled students participated in state assessments. Because only 40% of student results are available, state assessments are not representative of the state’s student population. The results should not be compared statewide, by statewide subgroup, or with prior year’s results.

There are several risk factors that affect a child’s development, chief among them poverty. Nationally, it is estimated that approximately 48% of children in poverty enter school ready to learn (Brookings Institution, Starting School at a Disadvantage). In Onondaga County, one-in-five of the 5,039 children born each year are born into poverty. That translates to approximately 6,670 children between the ages of zero and five living in poverty across the county, with the vast majority residing in the City of Syracuse (one of every two babies is born into poverty in the city). In addition, approximately 20% of children in publicly funded health plans are not attending their well-child visits from birth to age 6, and approximately 46% of children are not participating in formal early learning experiences.

Thankfully, research has also shown that an array of high-quality early interventions targeting at-risk children can pay dividends in the long run. These supports may be in the form of learning activities or other structured experiences that affect a child directly or that have indirect effects through training parents or otherwise enhancing the caregiving environment. In Onondaga County, existing interventions include high-quality child care, early intervention and preschool special education, state-funded universal Pre-K, home visiting programs, and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.