Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. Final Thoughts/Future Research

12/15/2009

The current set of research summarized in the three syntheses has moved the field forward in some respects. Until recently, there has been almost single-minded focus on language and literacy, which has conferred benefits in terms of the relative breadth and depth of knowledge we have for that domain. The current research reflects a new priority on socioemotional skills, especially self-regulation, and this has opened up new funding opportunities and new intervention designs, which are crucial for our ability to develop our knowledge base in this domain. Early math is also now receiving more scrutiny, although the research base is much more limited.

The current set of research studies does not address directly the critical over-arching issues of what constitutes school readiness, the developmental trajectory of the component skills in readiness, and the long-term benefits of early skill development in both the academic and social domains. The lack of a definition of readiness makes it difficult to summarize the findings from a large set of research studies, since different studies not only use different measures of the same construct but also assess a different set of constructs. Not only does this hinder comparisons, it also limits our ability to understand whether an intervention has broad or narrow effects on children's school readiness.

Nor is the research designed to yield supportable conclusions about the relationship between specific environmental inputs (intentional teaching, materials, technology) and child outcomes that go beyond simple correlations, for example, through systematic planned variation studies or through complex analyses such as instrumental variable analysis.

There also is a clear need for more longitudinal research on the development of children's early skills in all three domains, at least through preschool and into the early elementary grades.

All three synthesis papers note that future research will need to more clearly delineate the sources of variation in impact, as well as the overall impact. Potential factors include characteristics of students as well as of teachers and of the intervention itself.

The field is attempting to simultaneously develop effective, research-linked interventions, deliver them with high fidelity in a variety of education settings, use valid, reliable measures of what are often complex psychological constructs, and contribute to building a knowledge base on instructional practices. Despite the sometimes disappointing findings, we need to understand the difficulty of designing effective interventions to be implemented in real-life educational settings, with groups of at-risk children.

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