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Kindergarten Class of 2011: A Snapshot

In the 2010-11 school year, 3.5 million children were first-time kindergartners in the United States.

Fifty-three percent were white, 24 percent were Hispanic, 13 percent were African-American, 4 percent were Asian, 4 percent were two or more races, 1 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, and less than 0.5 percent were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

Twenty-five percent came from households below the federal poverty level. Eighty-four percent lived in homes where English is the primary language.

That demographic snapshot of American kindergartners was released by the research arm of U.S. Department of Education as "first findings" from an early childhood longitudinal study that will track these kids through Spring 2016 when they should be finishing the 5th grade.

The study—being done by researchers at the National Center for Education Statistics—is one of three that is examining child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. According to NCES, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS) program, which started more than a decade ago, and provides national data on early childhood development and education in the United States. The two other studies include a cohort of children born in 2001 and were followed from birth through kindergarten entry, and a cohort of children who entered kindergarten in 1998-99 and were followed through the 8th grade.

More than 18,000 parents and children are participating in the kindergarten class of 2011 cohort, across nearly 1,000 schools, according to NCES.

The early findings—which will surprise no one in this field—demonstrate how early achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups, as well as varying socioeconomic groups, show up.

For example, Asian first-time kindergartners had higher reading and math scores than first-time kindergartners of other races and ethnicities. Whites outscored blacks, Hispanics, American Indian/Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders on reading and math.

Kindergartners in households below the federal poverty level had the lowest scores on reading and math, while students who came from homes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level had the highest scores. And, as you would expect, assessment scores increased with parental education level.

Of course, kindergartners from homes where English is the primary language scored better in reading and math than their peers from homes where English was not the primary language.

NCES reported on one health indicator as well among the kindergartners: Body Mass Index, or BMI. And here again, there are no findings that go against the grain. Asians and whites were more likely to have a lower BMI than students of other races and ethnicities, while those who came from households below the poverty level had higher BMI.

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