The State of State
Prekindergarten Standards in 2003
CENTER FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF
EARLY READING ACHIEVEMENT (CIERA)
Susan B. Neuman
Today, an increasing number of
states support school readiness programs, recognizing that high quality early
childhood education positively affects all children's success in school and the
quality of their future. Research confirms that these benefits are especially
pronounced for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom have had
limited educational experiences. These studies provide further evidence that
education cannot be postponed until children reach school-age; rather,
nurturing early educational environments employing research-based practices
provide a critical foundation for children's later achievement.
Recent federal initiatives,
including Good Start Grow Smart, the revised guidance for the Child Care and
Development Fund (CCDF) state plans, and the reauthorization of Head Start,
call upon states to enhance these efforts, by developing or rigorously
reviewing their prekindergarten guidelines or standards in literacy, language,
and mathematics to be in alignment with state K-12 standards. Quality
prekindergarten standards are a critical part of a state's architecture in
developing systems of service delivery for young children, serving to frame
content and curriculum, professional development, and assessments for the
benefit of helping children develop school readiness skills.
This report examines the quality of
state prekindergarten standards in language, literacy, and mathematics.
Recognizing that states are at various stages of development, the analysis was
designed to highlight quality standards, and to provide feedback to states in
the process of establishing, reviewing, or strengthening prekindergarten
standards. In this policy brief, we describe our methods, and analytic tools
for examining quality. We encourage State Department early childhood
specialists to request individual rating scores for their state by contacting
As part of the Good Start Grow
Smart initiative, Early Childhood Academies were designed to promote best
practices and to encourage greater coordination and collaboration across early
childhood programs and funding streams. In preparation for the Academies,
content specialists, working with the Assistant Secretary of Elementary and
Secondary Education, were charged with developing criteria for what constituted
quality standards in language, literacy and mathematics. Following an
extensive literature search, and series of discussions, the following criteria
and indicators must focus on skills that young children should know and be able
to do. These skills should be grounded in the core discipline, and represent
foundational understandings of important, key ideas. In contrast, indicators
in the learning domain that focus on values, activities, or processes in lieu
of skills or indicators that attempt to prescribe how material should be taught
are not well-grounded in the discipline, nor are they proven to be related to
later achievement. Examples highlight these differences:
- Preschool children should demonstrate
understanding of basic conversational vocabulary (skill-indicator).
- Preschool children should count the items in a collection of one
to five items and know the last counting word tells "how many" (skill-indicator).
- Preschoolers should delight at the
simple joy of creating drawings and writings (value).
- Preschoolers participate in games and
lessons involving separation or repetition of words and word sounds (activity).
- Research-Based. Standards
and indicators must be research-based. Indicators that are built on a solid
foundation of research in child development, early childhood, language, early
literacy, and mathematics ensure that skills are reasonably achievable for
all prekindergarten children, age-appropriate, and necessary for school readiness.
- Comprehends and responds to stories
read aloud (Research-based; see research by Dickinson, Morrow; Whitehurst)
- Reads simple one-syllable and high
frequency words (Not research based; no evidence that this is a realistic
for prek children)
- Uses tables, charts, and graphs in
a systematic manner to represent meaningful information and relationships
evidence that this is a realistic benchmark for prek children or that
prek is the best time to emphasize these topics).
- Clearly Written. Standards
and indicators must be written clearly enough for teachers, parents,
policymakers, and the general public to understand. Educational jargon can
be off-putting, alienating the very public from which educators seek support.
contrast, a clear indicator focuses on a particular targeted skill (instead
of many skills), is measurable, and sends an unambiguous message as to what
preschoolers will know and be able to do.
- Recognizes common sounds at the beginning
of words (clear)
- Demonstrates phonemic awareness of
oral blending (not clear)
- Models equal and unequal parts of units
using concrete manipulatives (not clear)
- Comprehensive. Standards
and indicators must be comprehensive, representing the knowledge and skills
essential for achievement. Indicators need to cover the domain and not
overemphasize one set of skills over another.
- State standards include indicators in oral
language comprehension, phonological awareness, vocabulary, letter name
print concepts (comprehensive in literacy).
- State standards include indicators in number & number sense,
measurement, geometry, statistics, algebra, and mathematical reasoning
(comprehensive in mathematics)
- State standards include oral language comprehension,
phonological awareness, letter name knowledge, and print concepts (vocabulary
is missing; not
- Manageable. Standards
must be manageable given the constraints of time. Given competing demands
and limited hours (many programs are still only 2 ½ hours), states
should be parsimonious in the number of indicators required. Too many indicators
undo demands on teachers, and place impossible expectations on children.
- State standards include in the range of
10-40 indicators in each content domain, allowing comprehensive coverage
of the domains (balance)
- State standards include less than 10 or
more than 40 indicators in each content domain which results either in
too few for comprehensive
coverage of learning categories or too many in relation to the whole
early childhood curriculum (lack of balance)
- Applicable to Diverse Settings. Standards and indicators must be appropriate
for learning in different early childhood settings. This may appear obvious
to early childhood
educators, but it is important to stress. Learning in the early years occurs
in many different educational settings--some children are in family day care
arrangements, others, in center based care, still others with family members.
To be truly effective, standards and indicators must be consistent across
settings, helping to eliminate the fragmentation that has traditionally plagued
the early childhood field.
Method for Examining Standards
and indicators in language, literacy, and mathematics for each state were coded
by at least two experts in each of the requisite fields. Reliability was
established, followed by selective re-codings to further ensure quality.
Exemplars of strong and weak indicators were selected to help states better
scores were determined as follows:
of skill indicators over total number of indicators;
of research-based skill indicators over total number
of skill indicators;
of clear indicators over total number of skill indicators;
of skill indicators in each research-based category
within the domain;
of setting-independent indicators over the total
number of skill indicators.
Percentages were converted to
grade designations: 90-100% A, 80-89% B, 70-79% C, 60-69% D, and below 60% F.
To provide clear guidance to states, grades were given in each category, along
with an overall grade.
intends to provide helpful feedback to state directors of early childhood on
state prek standards, prior to publishing these data. Individual state reports
will be generated, and distributed to state contacts, followed by discussions
with the authors of the report.