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Young Children's Well-Being Is Rising, Federal Indicators Suggest

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Children who experienced at least some early child care beyond their parents or relatives performed better in reading and math in kindergarten than those who were cared for only by relatives, according to a new federal data release, which includes a special section on kindergarten.

"America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being," released today by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, is the latest of 16 annual reports which summarizes national indicators of the well-being of children and their families, monitoring changes as they occur each year. This year's report includes 41 key indicators, spread across seven domains: family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health. The widespread applicability of this data is reflected in its demographic findings: In 2012, there were 73.7 million children ages 0-17 in the United States, making up nearly 24 percent of the population.

This year, data indicated that the percentage of infants born preterm declined, as did the number of births to adolescents. The percentage of children without a usual source of health care also decreased. A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation recently revealed that, in 2011, 32 percent of children lived with parents lacking steady employment—a number that has seen steady increases since the start of the recession in 2008. The federal report, however, indicated some improvement, finding that the percentage of children living with at least one parent with full-time employment had increased since 2011.

While these numbers were promising, other indicators were less so. For example, there was an increase in the percentage of 12th graders who reported binge drinking.

Kindergarten Profiled

This year's report included a special section highlighting kindergartners' reading, mathematics, and science achievement, as well as approaches to learning. The report was based on data from the ongoing federal Early Childhood Longitudinal Study tracking children who started kindergarten in 2010-11. As expected, entering kindergartners from households with incomes near and below the federal poverty line had lower reading, math, and science scores than children from households with incomes at least 200 percent of the poverty level.

Interestingly, the data also may help assuage some working-parent guilt: Students who attended center- or home-based preschool with someone other than a relative had better reading and math scores at the start and end of kindergarten than did children who had been cared for only by parents or other relatives. And students with both parents working full-time or one full- and one part-time employed parent had higher math and reading scores than those with only one parent working. Moreover, both the gap between children who attended preschool with a non-relative and those who did not, and the gap between children with two versus one working parent had not entirely closed by the end of the child's kindergarten year.

Among other findings:

• Red-shirting seemed beneficial; The older a child was at the start of kindergarten, the better his performance across reading, math, and science at the beginning and end of the school year.
• Asian and white students had higher entry performance across all subjects than students who were of other ethnic backgrounds or who were English-language learners.
• While female kindergarten students performed better than their male classmates on tests of reading at the start of kindergarten, there was no measurable differences in their math and science scores.


There are 69 tables and 65 figures describing the population of children and depicting family well-being included in the report.

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