06/04/2013 02:02 EDT | Updated 08/04/2013 05:12 EDT

EQAO links kindergarten 'readiness' to Grade 3 success

Children who struggle when they first begin school have a harder time catching up by Grade 3 than their more prepared peers according to a report released Tuesday by the Education Quality and Accountability Office.

Using a checklist developed at McMaster University, EQAO assessed more than 72,000 children in five areas:

- Physical health and well-being.

- Social competence.

- Emotional maturity.

- Language and cognitive development.

- Communication skills and general knowledge.

The kids who had trouble at the beginning of their school years — those deemed "vulnerable" or "at risk" by their teachers — were much less likely than their "ready" or "very ready" peers to meet provincial standards for reading, writing and math by the end of Grade 3.

Overall, the teachers' evaluations suggested that one in three kindergarten students in Ontario are "at risk" of falling below the provincial standard in the key area of language learning and cognitive development. It was, in fact, the category with the highest percantage of kids who seem ill-prepared.

EQAO’s chief executive officer Marguerite Jackson said the study highlights two important lessons.

"First, the early nurturing and development of the whole child clearly matters and second, the education system must continue to structure its programs in ways that account for and support students at all developmental stages at the start of schooling," she said in a statement.

Reading into the numbers

Although the report clarifies that children who have a rocky start can improve — and, likewise, those that hit the ground running can fall behind — for the most part, students continue along the same path.

Eighty-two per cent of the children who had been deemed "very ready," and 68 per cent of children who had been rated "ready," in the area of language and cognitive development went on to meet the standard for reading by the end of Grade 3.

But only 30 per cent of the students who had been rated "vulnerable" — the lowest designation — and 49 per cent of those “at risk” met the same standard by the end of the same grade.

The picture becomes more complicated, however, when one considers those that bucked the trend. Roughly 25 per cent of the "ready" or "very ready" students did not meet the standard for reading by Grade 3 — but many of those deemed "vulnerable" or "at risk" did.

"Clearly, a child’s readiness for school in kindergarten neither guarantees nor prevents later academic achievement," said Jackson, who added that, for the most part, Ontario’s students are living up to the expected standards after just a few years in school.

Study pre-dates all-day kindergarten

The students assessed for the study were in kindergarten between 2005 and 2008, before the 2010 introduction of full-day kindergarten.

Researchers reassessed the same students before the end of Grade 3, between 2008 and 2011.

The same checklist assessment is run every three years in Ontario schools, meaning future reports will include results for students in full-day kindergarten.