Challenging content in the early years boosts later achievement

A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal examines the relationship between academic content in kindergarten (Reception) and children’s later achievement in school. They found that spending four more days per month on more advanced topics in maths and reading was associated with modest increased test scores of about 0.05 standard deviations

The authors used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class (ECLS-K), a nationally representative sample of children who entered kindergarten in the US in the 1998/99 school year. It includes information on academic skills at school entry and throughout primary school, as well as information about the children, their families, teachers, and schools. Kindergarten teachers were surveyed about classroom reading and maths activities and content, with measures aligned to the proficiency areas measured by ECLS-K achievement tests. Parents were also surveyed about their child’s non-parental care experiences before they entered kindergarten. The study used a sample of almost 16,000 children.

Controlling for external factors that may have been correlated with preschool attendance (eg, race, health, family characteristics), the authors found a consistent and positive effect of exposure to advanced contents in maths and reading in kindergarten (eg, addition, subtraction, and ordinality in maths, and phonics instruction, reading aloud or silently, and reading comprehension in reading). In contrast, children did not benefit from basic content coverage (eg, counting out loud or sorting into subgroups in maths, and writing the letters of the alphabet in reading).

The authors conclude that increasing time spent on advanced academic content in kindergarten (and reducing time on basic content) could be a potentially low-cost way of improving achievement.

Source: Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects (2014), American Educational Research Journal, 51(2).

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