The School Readiness Report Card gathers, synthesizes and interprets a broad array of relevant data to help various stakeholders track the status of state and local school readiness initiatives; and it serves as a reliable repository through which stakeholders have ready access to essential data over time, at the state and locality level, helping them take a longitudinal perspective and respond to trends revealed by the data. Collecting and organizing this wealth of data, synthesizing and interpreting it in a biennial report, and providing ready access to the data over time are all essential steps in strengthening Virginia’s school readiness efforts.

Yet while the Report Card has a key role in supporting school readiness initiatives, its five-year history has also revealed limitations pointing to challenging systemic shortcomings which will have to be addressed if Virginia will succeed with its school readiness efforts and investments.


Despite the ability of the Report Card to collect and synthesize a wealth of relevant data, there remain severe gaps in available data, making it very challenging to provide more functional analyses that can drive broad, system-level and policy-level initiatives. There may well be indicators, not yet developed or incorporated in routine data collection efforts, that are potentially more valid and useful indicators of overall school readiness. Examples of fundamental data gaps include:

  • the lack of “reach” data for many domains of early childhood services, making it difficult to estimate numbers served and, more critically, the scope and nature of unmet needs
  • lack of objective data to assess the quality of various programs or initiatives; or lack of processes to assemble and integrate data on quality from the variety of sources that collect such data
  • lack of standardized, validated measures to assess multiple dimensions of a student’s school readiness, beyond the early literacy dimension measured by the PALS-K instrument
  • relevant early childhood data are produced by a variety of agencies, yet state government lacks a data system that can effectively assemble and integrate data from these multiple sources

It is encouraging that several current Virginia data initiatives have begun to address these shortcomings.

  • An Early Childhood Integrated Data System (ECIDS) initiative spearheaded by VECF has prompted some early steps to build a more integrated data system with uniform cross-agency processes for data identification, collection, sharing and utilization.
  • One critical feature of ECIDS is to pursue adding relevant early childhood data sets to be accessed by the Virginia Longitudinal Data System.
  • A recent Data Capacity Initiative conducted by VECF is enhancing the capacity of its local and regional Smart Beginnings partners to collect, manage and utilize relevant data to change practice and policy and influence investments.
  • UVA’s Curry School of Education is piloting the development of a battery of objective measures, supplementing PALS, to assess school readiness across additional domains of numeracy, social skills, and self-regulation. With the recent addition of an end-of-year post-test, this pilot initiative could enhance the ability to understand student progress as well as assess overall state and local school readiness.

In Virginia’s effort to create an early childhood system that optimizes early development and school readiness, the most consequential barrier to more progress is simply this: Virginia has yet to adopt the guiding vision and viable governance/leadership framework needed to get the job done. Certainly various services and initiatives are in place, many of which are commendable and effective, yet any attempt at assessing the overall status of school readiness efforts is handicapped by the absence of a comprehensive vision and of a plan that articulates priorities, goals, measurable objectives, action steps, and leadership accountabilities. Virginia has multiple services and initiatives and even some successes but does not yet have a system – a cohesive framework to drive a highly functional and effective effort for the first five years – the most fertile of brain development.

Both challenges above can be overcome – and doing so will provide both the objective data needed to better track the status of school readiness efforts and the framework in which to make valid judgements about this status.

Building on Virginia’s bi-partisan legislative support for a strong start to the workforce pipeline, and with the recent addition of Governor and Mrs. Northam’s dedicated leadership to early education plus increased public sector capacity from Virginia’s first Chief School Readiness Officer, the Commonwealth is at a tipping point in its school readiness efforts. Together with Virginia’s business community, legislators, and the Administration, VECF is promoting a comprehensive business plan through an "Early Childhood Success Act" to outline in statute a collaborately designed cohesive public-private, data-informed, early childhood system bolstered by local and regional innovation. While Virginia has made incremental progress with its early childhood policies and investments, without a durable plan outlining goals, principles, and standards in statute, we are limited in our ability to effectively plan, resource, manage, and continuously improve school readiness efforts. By joining forces to articulate a shared vision and action plan for our youngest citizens, we can position Virginia firmly on the path to school readiness and academic success, delivering a more capable workforce and a more prosperous and livable Commonwealth.

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