Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. Discussion

12/15/2009

When we describe the gap that exists in terms that policymakers and the general public can easily comprehend, we get a sense of the size and scale of the school readiness gap in terms of the number of months of development that low-income children lag behind their more affluent peers.  Is it realistic to expect a single year of early childhood intervention before the start of kindergarten to make up for nine months to a year of development (i.e., to greatly accelerate the rate at which disadvantaged children develop and learn)?  The good news from the most recent reviews of early childhood research (e.g., Caswell & He, 2008; Ginsburg & Clements, 2008; Goodson, 2008; Raver, 2008) is that some interventions have been successful in moving children closer to this goal; the bad news is that none succeeded in accomplishing it completely (i.e., closing the gap).  As Hart and Risley (1995) pointed out, longer and more focused interventions are needed to help children acquire the language and vocabulary skills that will be essential to develop the more complex skills of comprehension and interpretation. Beginning a year earlier or continuing the intervention into kindergarten might magnify the impact of effective interventions sufficiently to accomplish that goal.  At the same time, it is important that we continue to work on improving the quality of interventions and curricula for preschool-aged children.

Many other questions about effective strategies for preparing low-income children for school and reducing the school readiness gap remain to be answered.  Although everyone recognizes that parents are essential agents in supporting childrens development, we have been almost completely ineffective in marshalling this resource.  Are we to give up on parents or are there ways they could be enlisted to help magnify the effect of direct services to children?  Another question has to do with the utility of continued experimental testing in single sites of different curricular or teacher training approaches, in the absence of a comprehensive theoretical framework for the research.  Is Head Start, with its commitment to continuous quality improvement, and its ability to move a very large number of programs in a desired direction, a better laboratory for the many aspects of early childhood education that need to be tested?  What if any evidence about the effectiveness of different strategies and approaches will be gained as states invest more resources in universal prekindergarten?  These and other questions are topics for later discussion.

Exhibit 3
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Reading IRT Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 3 shows average reading IRT scores from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of grade 5 for children in each of the deciles of the distribution of baseline reading IRT scale score. As shown on the X-axis, reading IRT scores were measured in the fall of kindergarten (baseline), spring of kindergarten, spring of grade 1, spring of grade 3, and spring of grade 5. The range of possible reading IRT scores shown on the Y-axis is 0 points to 200 points. For children in all deciles, the average growth trajectory follows a common pattern, similar to the average trajectory for the full sample. The vertical displacement between the trajectories for each of the deciles remains fairly constant, with slight widening over time. No trajectory ever crosses another; the order remains unchanged. The gap between the trajectory for children in the highest of the deciles is consistently larger than the gap between any of the other deciles.

Exhibit 4
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Letter Recognition Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 4 shows average letter recognition scores from fall of kindergarten through spring of grade 5 for children in each of the deciles for baseline reading. The X-axis shows the measurement time points: fall of kindergarten, spring of kindergarten, and spring of grades 1, 3, and 5. The Y-axis shows the range of possible letter recognition scores from 0.0 to 1.0. In the fall of kindergarten, children vary widely in their letter recognition scores, with children in the lowest decile scoring near 0.0, on average and children in the highest decile scoring 1.0, on average. By the spring of kindergarten, the variation has diminished substantially, with children in the lowest decile scoring an average of 0.7 on the letter recognition measure. By the spring of grade 1, the average letter recognition score is 1.0 for students in all deciles.

Exhibit 5
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Beginning Sounds Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 5 shows average sounds on a measure of beginning sounds from fall of kindergarten through spring of grade 5 for children in each of the deciles for baseline reading. The plot shows a pattern similar to Exhibit 4; however, for students in most of the deciles, other than the two highest, the average beginning sounds score tends to be lower than the average letter recognition score in the fall of kindergarten. In addition, the trajectories take longer to converge at 1.0 - by the spring of grade 3 rather than by the spring of grade 1.

Exhibit 6
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Ending Sounds Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 6 shows average scores on a measure of ending sounds from the fall of kindergarten through spring of grade 5 for children in each of the deciles of baseline reading scores. Again, the plot shows a pattern similar to Exhibit 5, although average ending sounds scores tend to be lower in the fall of kindergarten than average beginning sounds scores. By the end of grade 3, students in all deciles have average ending sounds scores of 1.0; however, the rate of change in average scores for ending sounds tends to be slower than for beginning sounds.

Exhibit 7
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Sight Words Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 7 shows average scores on a measure of sight word recognition from fall of kindergarten through spring of grade 5 for children in each of the deciles of baseline reading scores. This plot continues the trend from earlier plots of lower average scores in the fall of kindergarten and slower rates of growth. Students in all but the highest of the deciles have an average sight words score of 0.0 in the fall of kindergarten. There is still a large amount of variation among the deciles in the average sight words scores in the spring of grade 1, with an average score below 0.5 for students in the lowest decile and nearly reaching 1.0 for students in the highest decile.

Exhibit 8
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Word in Context Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 8 shows average scores on a measure of reading words in context from the fall of kindergarten through spring of grade 5 for children in each of the deciles of baseline reading score. This plot extends the trend from earlier plots - with each building literacy skill, initial scores are lower than for the previous skill and the rate of growth over elementary school is slower. Students in all but the highest of the deciles have an average word in context score of 0.0 in the fall of kindergarten and only slightly higher scores in the spring of kindergarten. Variation in average word in context scores is wide in the spring of first grade, ranging from 0.15 for the lowest decile to 0.9 for the highest decile. Over time, scores cluster at increasingly higher levels; however, even by the spring of grade 5, students in the lowest deciles have average scores that are still slightly below 1.0.

Exhibit 9
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Literal Inference Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 9 shows average scores for children's ability to make literal inferences when reading from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of grade 5, for children in each of the deciles of baseline reading score. In this plot, average literal inference scores remain low in the earliest grades for students in most deciles, with average scores of 0.0 in fall and spring of kindergarten, and average scores below 0.2 in spring of first grade for children in most deciles. Variation in average literal inference scores is wide in spring of grade 3, ranging from 0.4 for children in the lowest decile to nearly 1.0 for children in the highest. By the end of grade 5, children in the highest two deciles have average scores approaching 1.0; however, on average, most children have not mastered this skill, with average scores ranging down to 0.7.

Exhibit 10
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Extrapolation Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 10 shows average scores for children's ability extrapolate meaning from written text, beginning in the fall of kindergarten through the spring of grade 5, for children in each of the deciles of baseline reading score. Children in all but the highest decile have not yet begun to demonstrate this skill by the spring of grade 1, with average scores for all but the highest decile at 0.0. Average scores vary widely in spring of grade 3 (0.1 - 0.9) and spring of grade 5 (0.4 - 1.0). On average, most children have not mastered this skill by the end of grade 5.

Exhibit 11
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Evaluation Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 11 shows average scores for children's ability to evaluate fictional text from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of grade 5, for children in each of the deciles of baseline reading score. This plot continues the previous trend, showing lower average scores and slower rates of growth with each increasingly complex reading skill. Average scores are near 0.0 for children in all but the highest decile through the spring of grade 1. Average evaluation scores vary at the lower range of the scale at the spring of grade 3 (0.1 - 0.5) and the spring of grade 5 (0.2 - 0.75) than average extrapolation scores (Exhibit 10). On average, children have mid-range scores on this skill by the end of grade 5.

Exhibit 12
Mean at Each Measurement Point
for Deciles Determined by Fall Kindergarten Score

Evaluating Non-fiction Score. See Long Description for explanation.

Exhibit 12 shows average scores for children's ability to evaluate non-fiction text from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of grade 5, for children in each of the deciles of baseline reading score. On average, children are only beginning to demonstrate this skill by the spring of grade 5. Average scores for all but the highest decile are 0.0 through the spring of grade 3. In the spring of grade 5, children in all but the two highest deciles have average scores ranging between 0.0 and 0.1. Average scores are 0.15 for children in the second highest decile and are nearly 0.3 for children in the highest decile.

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