Let’s Talk about language development

The findings from a randomised controlled trial of Let’s Talk – an interactive intervention to support young children’s language development – suggest that the intervention has a positive effect on narrative and vocabulary development.

The trial, conducted by Gillian Lake and Maria Evangelou, and published in European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, involved 94 three- to four-year-old children in early education settings in Oxfordshire. The children were randomly assigned to control or intervention groups and tested pre- and post-intervention on standardised vocabulary and narrative assessments. Children in the intervention group attended twice-weekly sessions over ten weeks, in groups of three to five children. The first session of the week was a group shared storybook reading session with a puppet, while the second weekly session consisted of a planned pretend play session based on the storybook read in the first session that week. Children in the control group completed age-appropriate early numeracy activities and games – also in groups of three to five children.

The results suggest that the intervention had a positive effect on the vocabulary of the children in the intervention group, with medium to large effect sizes, and also on their narrative ability.

Source: Let’s Talk! An interactive intervention to support children’s language development (February 2019). European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 27:2

Do higher teacher qualifications mean better early childhood education and care?

This Campbell systematic review examines the evidence on the correlation between teacher qualifications and the quality of early childhood learning environments, as measured by the Environment Rating Scale (ERS). The review summarises findings from 48 studies with 82 independent samples. The studies had to be comparative or correlational and report either an overall quality scale or an environment rating scale.

Overall, the review suggests that higher teacher qualifications are positively associated with classroom quality in early childhood education and care (effect size = +0.20). The review also suggests a positive correlation between teacher qualifications and classroom quality on a number of subscales, including:

  • Programme structure – focusing on the schedule, time for free play, group time and provisions for children with disabilities (ES = +0.22).
  • Activities – this relates to fine motor, art, music/movement, blocks, sand/water, dramatic play, nature/science, maths/number, use of digital technologies, and promoting acceptance of diversity (ES = +0.20).
  • Language and reasoning – encouraging children to communicate, use language to develop reasoning skills, and the informal use of language (ES = +0.20).

The researchers conclude that while there is evidence for the relationship between teacher qualification and classroom quality as measured by the ERS, further research is also needed into the specific knowledge and skills that are learned by teachers with higher qualifications that enable them to complete their roles effectively. It is important to note also, that while higher quality in early childhood education and care may lead to improved outcomes for children, we cannot assume that this is the case.

Source: The relationship between teacher qualification and the quality of the early childhood education and care environment (January 2017), Campbell Systematic Reviews, Volume 13, Issue 1.

Does school entry age matter?

In the UK, children usually start primary school in the academic year in which they turn five. However, because entry rules vary across local authorities, some schools may defer entry for children born later in the year until the second or third term.

A new study at University College London looks at what impact an earlier versus later entry into Reception has on pupils’ cognitive and non-cognitive skills up until age 11 (their final year of primary school).

Christian Dustmann and Thomas Cornelissen analysed information on more than 400,000 children born in 2000-01 who attended state schools in England and whose records are included in the National Pupil Database. This was combined with information on more than 7,000 children born in 2000-01 who took part in the Millennium Cohort study.

The researchers found that receiving an extra month of schooling before age five increases test scores in language and numeracy at ages five and seven by about 6–11%. But by age 11, the effects on test scores have largely disappeared. For boys from low socioeconomic backgrounds, the benefits of an earlier school entry are even greater. An additional term of schooling before age five reduces the achievement gap between boys from low and high socioeconomic backgrounds at age seven by 60-80%.

Source: Early school exposure, test scores, and noncognitive outcomes (March 2019), CReAM Discussion Paper Series CDP 03/19, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration

Professional development and early childhood education and care

A meta-analysis published in Review of Educational Research summarises findings from studies that evaluated the effects of in-service training for early childhood teachers on the quality of early childhood education and care (ECEC) and child outcomes. Overall, data from 36 studies with 2,891 teachers was included in the analysis. For studies to qualify, child care quality had to be measured externally with certified raters at the classroom level.

The analysis, carried out by Franziska Egert and colleagues, revealed that at the teacher level, in-service training had a positive effect on the quality of ECEC, with an effect size of +0.68. Furthermore, a subset of nine studies (including 486 teachers and 4,504 children) that provided data on both quality ratings and child development were analysed, and they showed a small effect at the child level (effect size = + 0.14) and a medium effect at the corresponding classroom level (effect size = +0.45).

Source: Impact of In-Service Professional Development Programs for Early Childhood Teachers on Quality Ratings and Child Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis, Review of Educational Research, 88:3 401 – 433.

Reform needed for early years initiative

As part of their Straight Talk on Evidence initiative, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) has released a report that discusses new findings from a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of Tennessee’s voluntary pre-kindergarten programme for low-income children.

The Voluntary Pre-K (VPK) initiative provides Tennessee’s four-year-old children—with an emphasis on four year olds who are at-risk—an opportunity to develop school readiness skills (pre-academic and social skills). The study randomly assigned 3,131 eligible children who applied for admission at one of 79 oversubscribed VPK programmes across the state to either a programme group that was offered admission or a control group that was not (but could access other available child and family services in the community). Pupil achievement and other outcomes were measured in third grade (Year 4) using state educational records.

According to the LJAF report, the study found positive short-term effects on achievement (at the end of the pre-k year), but these effects dissipated as children entered elementary (primary) school and turned modestly negative by third grade (Year 4). At the third-grade follow-up, the control group scored significantly higher in maths and science achievement than the pre-k group.

The report offers possible reasons for the adverse effects, and suggests that the programme be reformed by incorporating evidence-based funding criteria aimed at improving its effectiveness over time.

Source: Large randomized trial finds state pre-k program has adverse effects on academic achievement. Reform is needed to increase effectiveness. Straight Talk on Evidence, The Laura and John Arnold Foundation

The impact of professional development in early childhood education

Franziska Egert and colleagues in Germany and Amsterdam have conducted a review of the effects of professional development (PD) for early childhood educators on programme quality and children’s educational outcomes.

Studies were only included if they addressed quality of child care or child development, included early childhood teachers (including preschool, kindergarten and centre-based care), were quantitative, were experimental or quasi-experimental, reported effect sizes or data and addressed children 0–7 years old. This yielded 36 studies of 42 programmes evaluating quality ratings, and nine studies of 10 programmes evaluating both quality ratings and pupil outcomes.

Results showed that professional development improved the external quality ratings (as evaluated using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation, Environmental Rating Scales and Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System) of early childhood education (effect size=+0.68), with programmes providing 45–60 PD hours having the greatest impact on classroom practice as compared to programmes offering fewer or more hours. This was true regardless of whether teachers held a university degree or not. Further, programmes that solely used coaching were almost three times as effective as other programmes. A second meta-analysis of a subset of studies (n=486 teachers, 4,504 children) showed that improvement in the quality of early childhood education programmes was correlated with improvements in child development (effect size=+0.14) as determined by language and literacy scores, maths scores, social-behavioural ratings, and assessment of cognition, knowledge and school readiness.

Source: Impact of in-service professional development programs for early childhood teachers on quality ratings and child outcomes: a meta-analysis (January 2018), Review of Educational Research, Vol 88, Issue 3