Reading & Writing? Is This Kindergarten or First Grade?

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As Washington considered expanding pre-kindergarten access for three and four year olds, AIR early childhood researchers went to Capitol Hill on Dec. 9, 2013 to brief  policy makers on the latest (2010-11) data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, the nation’s most comprehensive study of child development, early learning and school progress. After nearly 15 years of conducting this series of studies for the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, AIR researchers were able to show how academic rigor (and expectations for incoming students) had increased since 1998 in the nation’s kindergarten classrooms.  

For example, in 2010-11:

  • 47 percent of kindergarten children had a teacher who believed it is very important or essential that a child “knows most of the letters of the alphabet” before entering kindergarten – compared to 18 percent in 1998-99
  • 34 percent of kindergarten children had a teacher who believed it is very important or essential that a child “can count to 20” before entering kindergarten – compared to 12 percent in 1998-99
  • 84 percent of kindergarten children had a teacher who agreed that “attending preschool is very important to success in kindergarten” – compared to 60 percent in 1998-99

Once in kindergarten, the study found:

  • 81 percent of children were in full-day program – compared to 53 percent in 1998-99
  • 90 percent of children were in a class where reading fluently was taught – compared to 52 percent in 1998-99
  • 30 percent of children were sitting in whole group instruction for 3 hours or more a day – compared to 14 percent in 1998-99

Music, art and creative activities play smaller roles in kindergarten classrooms.

  • 16 percent had music daily – compared to 34 percent in 1998-99
  • 57 percent of kindergarten children were in a class that used cooking or food-related items in class – compared to 87 percent in 1998-99
  • 37 percent of kindergarteners were in classes that used costumes for creative dramatics and theater – compared to 66 percent in 1998-99

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies are three long-term nationally representative studies of young children.  The first focused on the kindergarten class of 1998-99, following these children to their eighth-grade year. The second followed children born in 2001 to the fall of the kindergarten year. The third, conducted more than a decade after the first study, allowed researchers to compare two nationally representative kindergarten classes experiencing different policy, educational and demographic environments. Since these studies began, AIR has provided research support for their design, content development for surveys and assessments, implementation, data compilation and documentation, and data analysis.

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