Looking Back: Trends in risk factors and school outcomes over the past decade

RISK: The foundation for school readiness is laid long before a child enters kindergarten. The early childhood period, beginning at birth, is a window of opportunity for parents, caregivers, and communities to foster optimal child development. Numerous studies have shown the positive benefits of a stimulating early childhood environment on children’s development and later school performance. Given that parents and families are an infant’s first and most influential teachers, it is important to track key indicators of risk present at birth that have shown strong associations with poor school outcomes. Statewide trends over the past decade (or the most recently available data) for the four risk indicators tracked in the School Readiness Report Card are shown in Table 1. These risk indicators are described in detail in the Appendix.

In Virginia statewide, there has been significant progress in the past decade on three of the four risk indicators. Compared to 2005, there were 1,352 fewer births (a 53% decline) to teens (15-17 yrs) and 7,359 fewer births (a 47% decline) to mothers who have not earned a high school diploma in 2014. A smaller decrease was seen in the rate of low birthweight births (babies born at less than 2500 grams or about 5.5 pounds), but with over 100,000 births annually in Virginia, even a small percentage improvement in the rate (4.4%) translated into 514 fewer low birthweight births in 2014 compared to 2005.

Table 1. Trends over the past decade on key indicators of risk, Virginia.

*The change in the number of children at risk in the recent year compared to the baseline year.


The only risk indicator of the four that worsened over the past decade was the percentage of children ages 0-4 years living in poverty. The global financial crisis of 2007-2009 and its aftermath contributed to a reversal of Virginia’s decreasing poverty trend among young children in Virginia. The rising child poverty rate is concerning; of all the risk factors associated with whether or not young children succeed in school, living in poverty is the one most consistently associated with compromised child development. If poverty rates continue to climb, the improvements in school outcomes expected from reductions over the past decade in teen births and births to mothers with low education may be undermined.


RESULTS: The School Readiness Report Card highlighted six school outcomes using available data representing important milestones that, when met, facilitate students’ successful navigation through the K-12 public school system. The results indicators are described in detail in the Appendix. Educational outcomes provide a glimpse of the effectiveness of the system in supporting all children.

Statewide data showing the change in rates across the past decade for each of the six school outcomes are found in Table 2. Data were pulled from the most recent ten-year sequence for each outcome. Virginia’s Board of Education recently increased the minimum standard expected of students on the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments, so only years with the new standards were included in this report. Improvements were seen in all six outcomes between the baseline and most recent year. The largest difference was seen in the percentage of 9th grade repeaters where there was a 44% reduction (4,794 fewer students) in 2014/15 compared to 2005/06. The high school dropout rate also had a large reduction (40%, or 3,477 fewer students) in 2015 compared to 2008. The percentages of students failing to meet the PALS benchmark in the Fall of kindergarten, repeating a grade between kindergarten and 3rd grade, and the percentage of 3rd grade students failing the math SOL all decreased by 28-34% compared to the baseline year.

Table 2. Trends over the past decade on key indicators of school performance, Virginia.

*The change in the number of children with poor school performance in the recent year compared to the baseline year.

View risk, reach and results data by county and city using our interactive map tool.

» Visit the map tool