Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. The Importance of a Consensus on Defining School Readiness

12/15/2009

Some researchers suggest that early childhood experts should work to develop a consistent definition of what constitutes school readiness (see Goodson, 2008 for a discussion).  In theory, a definition of school readiness should identify the foundational skills, content knowledge, and concepts that children need when they enter school in order to achieve academic success in early elementary school and beyond.  Clearly defined expectations for children's development at school entry would provide specific objectives for children's development. Before we can identify the interventions, curricula, and teacher practices that foster children's school readiness, early childhood experts must identify the foundational skills essential for school success.  However, the early childhood field has not developed a consistent definition of school readiness. Furthermore, connections drawn between preschool skills and later academic outcomes are based largely on correlational research.  We need longitudinal research to explore the developmental trajectory of foundational skills.  We need to better understand how foundational skills are learned, how they interrelate, and how they develop over time to support academic success.

Specifically, what experiences contribute to students learning specific skills in each school readiness domain?  For example, what experiences contribute to students learning to regulate their attention, to understand word meanings, or to recognize patterns?  Furthermore, how do the development of skills in one domain relate to the development of skills in another domain?  School readiness domains are viewed as potentially synergistic. For example, socioemotional development may serve as a foundation for a focus on instruction in language and literacy or early math, or perhaps vocabulary development may provide the foundation for growth in other areas (e.g., socioemotional, math).  Many questions about the interrelationship of skills across domains need to be addressed, such as:  To what extent does children's cognitive self-regulation support their learning academic content and skills in a classroom setting?  To what extent are language skills the mechanism for understanding concepts in other domains, such as math and science, and the basis for internalized self-regulation?  In addition, questions about the relationship between early skill development and later school outcomes are critical.  For example, do children entering school at a particular skill level move more quickly onto the next set of skills?  Building a strong body of research that establishes links between early skills and later school achievement will be an important basis for developing a definition of school readiness.

A measurable definition of school readiness within and across developmental domains (e.g., language, literacy, cognitive development, mathematics, socioemotional, approaches to learning, and health) is needed as a foundation for initiatives to promote school readiness.  With clearly defined expectations for children's outcomes, early childhood interventions can target those specific objectives.  A goal for future research will be to identify the interventions, curricula, and teacher practices that effectively foster those outcomes. Likewise, the field will benefit from research that can identify the approaches for training and supporting teachers to use those practices.

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