One versus two years of ExCELL in preschool

While the effects of preschool programmes have often been studied, it is less common to find studies examining the effects of programme duration on student learning. Annemarie Hindman and Barbara Wasik from Temple University, Pennsylvania, examined the effects of providing one year versus two years of the teacher professional development programme Exceptional Coaching for Early Language and Literacy (ExCELL) on the language development and learning outcomes of three- and four-year-old children in the US preschool programme, Head Start.

ExCELL provides teachers with individualised coaching by providing a background in the concepts underlying preschoolers’ language and vocabulary development, evolving into ways to develop these skills in the classroom. Teachers are provided with curriculum materials and an academic year of month-long coaching, each month cycling through a group workshop, a coach modelling targeted techniques in the classroom, the teacher using these techniques independently, and finally the coach observing the teacher and providing feedback.

In the present study, 159 four-year-old children in Head Start experienced either one year (n=88), starting at age four, or two years (n=71), starting at age three, with teachers using ExCELL. Children were in 10 Head Start centres in the urban Northeastern United States in adjacent neighbourhoods with demographically similar populations. Almost all students and teachers were African-American and all were native English speakers.

At four years old, children were tested in the spring and autumn using standardised tests measuring vocabulary, sound awareness, and alphabet knowledge. Results showed that although the four-year-olds who had already received one year of the programme entered their second year with stronger vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and alphabet knowledge than their peers who had not yet experienced the programme, by the year’s end, these peers had caught up to them. The authors state that these findings suggest that ExCELL is most effectively taught in the second year of preschool.

Source: Is dosage important? Examining Head Start preschoolers’ language and literacy learning after one versus two years of ExCELL (2016), Early Childhood Development and Care

What counts for future success in maths?

Which preschool maths competencies are most important for later maths achievement? A new study in Early Childhood Research Quarterly attempts to answer this question for low-income and minority children.

The research looked at 781 children who completed the Research-based Early Mathematics Assessment (REMA) in preschool and a further maths assessment in fifth grade. The children came from diverse classrooms in New York and Boston, with 53% of the children African-American and 83% qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

Using state-defined preschool mathematics standards documents, the researchers classified the REMA into a number of domains of mathematical knowledge:

  • Counting and cardinality – basic counting (rote counting, number recognition, one-to-one correspondence) and advanced counting (cardinality, counting forward and back)
  • Patterning – extend and duplicate patterns
  • Geometry – identify, compare, and compose shapes
  • Measurement and data – recognize shapes and identify their attributes by measurement

All the domains were significantly predictive of later achievement, suggesting that children rely on multiple domains of early knowledge when developing later skills. However, counting and numeracy skills, particularly advanced counting skills, were most predictive of later achievement. Early numeracy was predictive of later mathematics achievement while also controlling measurement and data, geometry, and patterning. This suggests that, at least for this group of children, early numeracy was the most predictive of later mathematics ability.

Source: Which preschool mathematics competencies are most predictive of fifth grade achievement? (2016), Early Childhood Research Quarterly

What works for preschoolers?

A new systematic review of research on early childhood programmes in Educational Research Review has been published. The paper seeks to identify effective approaches capable of improving literacy and language outcomes for preschoolers.

Researchers from The Institute for Effective Education (IEE) and The Center for Research and Reform in Education (CRRE) applied consistent standards to determine the strength of evidence supporting a variety of approaches, which fell into two main categories: comprehensive approaches, which include phonemic awareness, phonics, and other skills along with child-initiated activities, and developmental–constructivist approaches that focus on child-initiated activities with little direct teaching of early literacy skills. Inclusion criteria included use of randomised or matched control groups, evidence of initial equality, a minimum study duration of 12 weeks, and valid measures of literacy and language.

Thirty-two studies evaluating 22 programmes found that early childhood programmes that have a balance of skill-focused and child-initiated activities had significant evidence of positive literacy and language outcomes at the end of preschool and on kindergarten (Year 1) follow-up measures. Effects on both types of measures were smaller and not statistically significant for developmental-constructivist programmes.

Source: Literacy and Language Outcomes of Comprehensive and Developmental-Constructivist Approaches to Early Childhood Education: A Systematic Review (2016), Educational Research Review.

High marks for high-quality preschool

A new report from the RAND Corporation presents findings from a review of research on preschool programmes in the US. Specifically, the report examines whether high-quality preschool produces favourable effects for participating children and their families, the magnitude of the impacts, and how long the benefits last. The preschool programmes ran for one or two years (equivalent to the Reception year, or the Nursery and Reception years, in the UK).

The researchers analysed evaluation findings from 15 full-scale, publicly funded preschool programmes implemented at the national, state, and local levels. The researchers examined evidence for the specific programmes, as well as results from syntheses across multiple preschool programme evaluations. In cases where children had been followed beyond the preschool years, they also considered research regarding longer-term effects.

Key findings of their review include:

  • Favourable impacts have been demonstrated for part- and full-day preschool programmes, as well as one- and two-year programmes, but the research is not definitive about the comparative effectiveness of these options.
  • High quality is a common element among the preschool programmes with the largest effects on school readiness and with sustained effects at older ages. These effective programmes include such features as well-trained classroom teachers who are provided with ongoing professional development support through coaching and other mechanisms, a learning environment that supports teachers and children, a well-defined curriculum that is implemented with fidelity in the classroom and aligned with the early school years, and ongoing monitoring of programme quality and other metrics that support continuous quality improvement.
  • High-quality preschool programmes show sustained benefits for aspects of school performance other than achievement scores, such as lower rates of special education use, fewer students being held back a year, and higher rates of high school graduation.
  • Children across the income spectrum may benefit from high-quality preschool, but the impacts tend to be larger for more disadvantaged children. The researchers also examined evidence on the investment value of preschool, reporting that estimates of the economic return for full-scale high-quality preschool range from about $2 to $4 for every $1 invested.

Source: Informing Investments in Preschool Quality and Access in Cincinnati (2015), RAND Corporation.

TV shows help parents teach early maths skills

A recent report by WestEd examined the effects of maths-related online activities and parental support materials from the US TV shows Sid the Science Kid, Curious George, and The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That on preschool children’s maths skills and their parents’ ability to support maths learning at home.

Two Head Start centres in a low-income area in California were randomly assigned to serve either as an experimental or control group for eight weeks. A total of 90 parent/child pairs were involved, with two-thirds eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches. The mean age of the children was 4 years, 5 months.

All children learned the same maths concepts addressed in the TV shows (numbers and base ten, measurement and data, and geometry and spatial sense). However, the experimental group were assigned to use related online maths material and parental support materials at home for 30 minutes a day, four days a week, as well as attending a weekly meeting addressing that week’s theme.

Post-tests showed that the experimental group scored significantly better than the control group in numerical sense. Parental awareness of their children’s maths ability increased over time, and parent surveys showed that they felt guided and supported by the meetings and competent to continue to help their children at home.

Source: Learning with PBS KIDS: A Study of Family Engagement and Early Mathematics Achievement (2015), WestEd.

The long-lasting effect of pre-school experiences

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores the impact of the early home learning environment (HLE) and pre-school on entry patterns and overall achievement at ages 17 and 18.

The authors used data from the Effective Provision of Pre-school Primary and Secondary Education (EPPSE) study, a large-scale, longitudinal study which has tracked the progress and development of more than 3,000 UK children from pre-school to post-compulsory education. They merged this with achievement data from the National Pupil Database.

The report concludes that both the early HLE and pre-school continue to shape young people’s educational outcomes up to age 18. There were significant positive effects for both the early HLE and pre-school in terms of increasing the likelihood that a young person will enter AS- or A-levels.

In terms of achievement, those who experienced a good early HLE were more likely to have higher achievement in terms of Key Stage 5 point scores. Although for most pupils attending pre-school did not lead to effects in the grades they achieved at KS5, separate analysis for the Sutton Trust showed a lasting impact for disadvantaged young people classed as high achievers at the end of primary school.

Previous research using the EPPSE data found that when pupils were 16 years old both the early HLE and pre-school shaped their GCSE attainment. Positive parenting and a stimulating HLE at an early age predicted both a higher total GCSE score and better grades in English and maths, and achieving the GCSE benchmark measures of 5 A*-C and 5 A*-C including English and maths. The same was true for attending any pre-school compared to none.

The Best Evidence in Brief archive includes a number of previous reports based on the EPPSE project.

Source: Pre-school and early home learning: Effects on A level outcomes (2015), Department for Education.