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Grasmick: Early childhood education played a key role in boosting student test scores

I was gratified by The Sun's recent coverage of the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores showing Maryland students among the most proficient in the nation ("Md. students score higher on Nation's Report Card," Nov. 2).

After 20 years at the helm of the Maryland State Department of Education, I know that parents, teachers and administrators across the state — not to mention the students themselves — worked hard to achieve these academic gains.

Readers should know that one other sector contributed to Maryland's educational success: Early care and education.

Based on research in neuroscience and in child development, there is no longer any doubt that the years from birth to age 5 are when children develop the essential foundations — linguistic, cognitive, emotional, social and physical — for all subsequent growth and learning.

Over the past decade, Maryland has provided opportunities for parents, child care providers and other early educators to become more skilled at promoting early learning and school readiness.

As a result, 81 percent of five-year olds now enter kindergarten with the foundational skills they need to succeed in school. That's up from just 49 percent in 2001.

I have no doubt that a fair share of Maryland's educational achievement is due to this improvement in school readiness.

If we are to close the persistent and troubling achievement gaps, we must continue to invest in programs that ensure that all young children have early learning opportunities and arrive at school ready to succeed.

Nancy S. Grasmick, Baltimore

The writer served as the Maryland state superintendent of schools from 1991 to 2011.

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