Social-Behavioral Readiness of Kindergartners Impacts Long-Term Success

Starting kindergarten without having the appropriate social-behavioral skills puts children at a much greater risk of being held back by the fourth grade, according to new research at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. These children are also more likely to need individualized educational services and to face suspension or expulsion.

“These results are important. They show how critical social and behavioral skills are for learning, how early the struggle begins for young children, and how important it is to address the problem of social-behavioral readiness well before children enter kindergarten,” says Professor Deborah Gross, DNSc, RN, FAAN, the Leonard and Helen Stulman Endowed Chair in Mental Health and Psychiatric Nursing.

The study, which focused on Baltimore City Public Schools, resonates nationwide as social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties are now top problems affecting school children. The researchers looked at the relationship between kindergartners’ social-behavioral readiness and key educational outcomes in over 9,000 elementary school students.

The findings reveal that by the time children reach the fourth grade, those who were considered socially and behaviorally “not ready” for school were up to 80 percent more likely to be retained in their grade. They were also up to 80 percent more likely to receive services through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan geared toward children with disabilities. They were also up to seven times more likely to be suspended or expelled at least once.

Boys were more likely to be assessed as not socially and behaviorally ready in kindergarten and to experience all three academic difficulties.

From greater odds of dropping out of school to decreased success in the workplace, the findings show that these outcomes put strain on families, schools, and societies.

“In 2015, kindergarten teachers rated more than half of students behind in social and behavioral skills needed for learning, and it’s painful for the children who want to succeed, but become frustrated and hopeless,” says Gross.

The researchers also point to the additional costs associated with providing extra educational support, lost wages among parents needing to supervise children who have been suspended or expelled, and juvenile justice involvement that often follows school dropouts.

Researcher Grace Ho, Ph.D., RN, adds that even though children first learn social-behavioral skills within their homes and family environment, development can be hindered among kids whose families are affected by chronic stress, poverty, or traumatic experiences.

“More than 30 percent of Baltimore City children are exposed to such events, and it directly impacts their ability to manage emotions, focus attention, and process information,” she says.

The researchers recommend a community strategy calling for schools and cities to promote social-behavioral kindergarten readiness by enhancing early childhood programs and strengthening support for parents and teachers.

“These programs may be costly,” says Amie Bettencourt, Ph.D., first author of the report and director of the ChiPP Project. “But not addressing the problem of readiness to learn will cost more in the long run. It’s in the best interest of all to invest in strengthening social and behavioral foundations for our kids and for future generations.”

Source: Johns Hopkins School of Nursing