Measuring School Readiness at the Community Level Helps Support

Author: Jake Cowan and Tom Kingsley
Date Posted: August 29, 2011

Numerous groups and initiatives in Seattle-King County have focused on improving school readiness and engaging parents, early childhood educators and school districts. Several efforts were pivotal for implementation of school readiness assessment in King County.

  • The Early Learning Opportunity grant included an extensive community engagement effort (including community conversations with parents, child-care providers and kindergarten teachers about school readiness) and developed a school readiness guide for parents in multiple languages in 2003.
  • The Early Childhood and School Readiness Action Agenda recommended that the Early Development Instrument (EDI) be used as the basis for countywide population based measure of children’s readiness for kindergarten.


The Early Development Instrument (EDI) is a survey tool designed to measure how well prepared groups of children are to learn in school settings. Kindergarten teachers answer questions about how children in their classes are doing in five areas of childhood development. These areas are: physical health, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication and general knowledge. Initially the EDI questions were reviewed locally for cultural bias, resulting in the deletion of one question. In 2005 four statistical analyses were carried out in order to test the EDI for fairness across racial/ethnic and language groups in King County. The results of these analyses give evidence of strong validity and reliability overall. By changing four additional items, the EDI can be strengthened and by increasing teacher training, teacher rating can be made more consistent.

The county public health department (Public Health—Seattle & King County) and the United Way of King County initiated the use of the EDI in three local school districts. Shoreline and Bellevue school districts participated in using the EDI in the 2003-2004 school year and Highline school district completed the EDI assessment in the 2004-2005 school year. All children who are enrolled in kindergarten in a participating school district are included, so that every neighborhood can get a complete picture of how their children are doing and where there are gaps in school readiness.

The EDI findings (5 categories of child development to measure children’s readiness for school) are mapped along with socioeconomic characteristics of each neighborhood in a school district and the location of community assets (child care centers, libraries, literacy and parent programs). These findings have helped to inform community groups, schools, parents, child care providers and other stakeholders about school readiness of children in neighborhoods within these districts. The findings are helping local groups prioritize actions to eliminate gaps in school readiness.

Over the next 10 years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will partner with other public and private entities through Thrive by Five: The Washington Early Learning Fund to help all Washington families’ access affordable, quality early learning for their children. The White Center area is the site for one of two Early Learning Initiative community-wide intervention projects in Washington State. In this community-wide strategy the goal is to reach all children in the community regardless of income. The Foundation and the state will use school readiness data to measure improvement. The EDI has gained visibility through a presentation to the Washington Early Learning Council and support from the Gates Foundation.

Exhibit 1: Across the Highline School District, 29.4% of kindergarten students are not prepared for school. This map provides detail for individual neighborhoods in the Highline School District.

This story was initially published in Stories: Using Information in Community Building and Local Policy in June 2007.

This story was written by staff at the Urban Institute, drawn from drafts by Sandy Ciske and David Solet of Public Health – Seattle & King County. Public Health – Seattle & King County is the Seattle partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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