Equity Begins with Early Learning

In recent years, equity has become a buzzword dominating conversations from boardrooms to classrooms; everyone from concerned families to invested policymakers are leveraging political capital and resources towards the cause. If we accept that education equity is defined by our inability to predict student outcomes based on race, gender, zip code, ability, socio economic status or the languages spoken at home, then we must at the same time advance that access to high quality early learning programs for every Virginia child is foundational to supporting long term student achievement. 

school children sitting for book reading

The case for kindergarten readiness and expanded early learning programs as effective equity strategies is clear. With the help of partners such as the Virginia Kindergarten Readiness Program (VKRP), the Department’s focus on early learners is strategic and provides valuable data to inform our policymaking. We know that forty-four percent of Virginia’s kindergartners are unprepared in at least one critical area, and for low-income children that number increases to fifty-six percent.

We have long held third grade reading scores as a predictor of longer-term academic success for Virginia students. We now know, that ninety-two percent of students scoring in the highest quintile on their PALS at kindergarten entry also score proficient on their third grade reading assessments. Equitable access to high quality early learning programs set the stage for academic success and reduce achievement gaps before they occur.

Let us take a moment to imagine a Virginia where test scores in third grade no longer predict future academic or life successes. Picture a Commonwealth where the language your family speaks at home, the amount of money you are born into, or the color of your skin does not correlate to graduation rates, college attainment, employment status or wages. Envision a state where your beginnings in life do not dictate your future opportunities. A state where every family can access the resources and supports necessary to maximize each child’s potential. This vision will become a reality through strategic efforts at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to advance equity strategies, establish equity targets, measure equity outcomes, provide tailored assistance to schools and school leaders and implement systemic policy and regulatory changes to disrupt resource inequity within the current public education system.   

Multicolor quilt with words equality, diversity, respect, justice, tolerance

The Virginia Department of Education is resolute in its commitment to education equity.  With an intentional focus on measuring student outcomes, Virginia’s strategy recognizes that critical equity inputs begin with early learning.  Often times, students who start behind, remain behind.  This is not acceptable.  Through our continued work together, the Department will measure, report, and support readiness and expanded early learning access to ensure that all Virginia children are able to maximize their potential.

Group of Diverse International Students Celebrating Graduation

Blog by Leah Walker, Director of Equity and Community Engagement, Virginia Department of Education. For more information on Virginia’s Equity Progress follow #EdEquityVA or visit: http://www.virginiaisforlearners.virginia.gov/edequityva/.

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email vkrp@virginia.edu, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1