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Kids Under Five Get Reading Boost from Three OC Funders

Kids Under Five Get Reading Boost from Three OC Funders

After eight years in development, Orange County has a new tool to measure the developmental progress of every child at the time they enter school. Spearheaded by the Children & Families Commission of Orange County, the Early Development Index (EDI) is a revealing measurement of the early learning needs of young children throughout our community. EDI is not only a population-based, validated assessment of school readiness and healthy development, it also addresses how children are developing by the time they reach school age. This first-of-its-kind data on Orange County youth is enabling the Commission and other champions for families to better evaluate the services and environments that influence children in their first five years of life. And it’s already shaping how funders are directing resources to ensure that Orange County’s youngest students are prepared to succeed in school.

“We, as a community, own the responsibility of creating ripe environments for kids to learn and supporting families to ensure their children can read at grade level by third grade,” explained Carla Vargas, senior vice president, Orange County United Way.

Although the EDI was developed in Canada in the late 1990s and spread to other countries, including Australia, it’s a relatively new way of measuring children’s development in the United States. In fact, Orange County is the vanguard site for implementing the EDI in the United States. The Commission began partnering with Orange County school districts during the 2007-2008 academic year to assess the readiness of young learners, but 2015 represents the first time EDI data was reported with 100 percent of all Orange County public schools with a kindergarten population included in the analysis.

The EDI provides information about children in five developmental areas that are known to affect well-being and school performance:

  • Physical health and well-being
  • Social competence
  • Emotional maturity
  • Language and cognitive skills
  • Communication skills and general knowledge

The summary of results by developmental area are simultaneously encouraging and challenging. Almost half of Orange County Children are developmentally on track in all five areas, which means that more than half are not ready on one or more fronts when they enter kindergarten.

Published in September 2015, the recent EDI study is helping other community leaders to better prepare OC learners.

It’s already guided the Commission, Orange County United Way and the Orange County Community Foundation to sponsor the new Champions for Children’s Literacy initiative. These regional grantmakers have pooled their funding to expand and improve local literacy programs.

Through its “We Can Read Orange County!” competitive grant program, Champions for Children’s Literacy will fund programs and interventions to improve literacy for young children ages 0-8 and their families in low-performing communities. By tackling the important issue of children’s literacy, funders hope to have an early impact on kids and reduce the achievement gap that hinders at-risk children even before they start kindergarten.

For its first funding cycle, Champions will fund four school districts and their collaborative partners in expanding programs to ensure children in their communities are reading at grade level by third grade. The grant recipients this year include La Habra City School District, La Habra Public Library and La Habra-based Family Resource Center; Boys & Girls Club of Garden Grove and Garden Grove Unified School District; Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana and Santa Ana Unified School District; and Anaheim Elementary School District along with Think Together and Network Anaheim.

“If a child does not read well by third grade, that child is four times less likely to graduate from high school,” said Vargas. “We are delighted about this collaboration with the Children’s and Families Commission and the Orange County Community Foundation in support of this important transition point that sets kids on the path to success in life.”

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