Study Shows Significant Gains in Literacy Skills Prior to First Grade

September 10, 2001
The combination of several new initiatives last year in the Montgomery County Public Schools -- a more rigorous curriculum, intensive training for teachers, expanded instructional time, ongoing assessment of student progress, and increased parent involvement -- resulted in significant gains in literacy skills among students attending kindergarten.

The findings are the result of an extensive study of reading skills among about 8,000 kindergarten students who attended full-day and half-day kindergarten programs last year, an enrollment larger than most entire school systems in the United States.

The study found that more than 80 percent of all kindergarten students achieved at least foundational reading skills by the end of the school year, with significant gains by students who were poor and/or learning English as a second language. Sixty-nine percent of all kindergarten students were reading text, and 33 percent of these students were reading books at the first grade level or beyond.

Full-day kindergarten provided the greatest benefit for students participating in the Free- and Reduced-price Meals System (FARMS) and
English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Seventy-one percent of these students attained foundational reading skills, compared to just 5 percent at the beginning of the year. In half-day kindergarten, 54 percent of these students attained this goal.

Students who had been in Head Start previously had more success in full-day kindergarten. For example, 76 percent of the poor and immigrant children who had been in Head Start achieved foundational reading skills in full-day kindergarten, compared to 49 percent of these students in half-day kindergarten. Both groups began kindergarten with 6 percent or less of students having these skills.

The findings underscore the effectiveness of full-day kindergarten with a revised curriculum that emphasizes reading and writing, particularly for students who are poor and/or English language learners.

The entire kindergarten curriculum was revised prior to the beginning of last year, adding a greater emphasis on reading, writing, and mathematics. The revised curriculum incorporates research-based literacy best practices, child development theory, and early brain research.

Schools offering full-day kindergarten have expanded over the past three years in targeted areas of Montgomery County, from nine schools in the 1999-2000 school year to 34 schools this year. The program also features class-size ratios of 15 students for every teacher.

Part of a comprehensive multi-agency early childhood education initiative, the kindergarten improvements include increased help for students before they reach kindergarten and significant support after kindergarten. For example, class-size ratios in Grades 1 and 2 have been reduced to 17:1 in 47 targeted schools.

The initiative serves as a model for efforts under way throughout the school system that emphasize a more rigorous curriculum, strengthened staff development, expanded instructional time, continuous student assessment, and increased parental involvement.

“The hard work and commitment of the kindergarten teachers to this comprehensive initiative has been instrumental to the success of the kindergarten revision,” said Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools, in a report to the Board of Education. “The results clearly demonstrate significant gains in the mastery of the foundational reading skills that are critical to successful reading in first grade.”

The Board of Education will review the report tomorrow, Tuesday, September 11, during its regularly scheduled meeting.

The study found that teachers’ use of the Early Childhood Assessment Program (ECAP), an ongoing assessment of student progress, had a significant impact on improving reading instruction because teachers could identify specific needs of students. Last year, kindergarten teachers implemented the assessment program three times, first at the beginning of the year, again at midterm, and finally at the end of the year, to gauge the development of individual students.

The study examined student acquisition of the foundational skills of letter knowledge, knowledge about print concepts, sight-word knowledge, and knowledge of letter-sound relationships. The study found the following:

· More than 82 percent of all students achieved the four foundational skills to be “reading-ready” by the end of kindergarten. By comparison, the percentage of students who had at least one of these skills at the beginning of the year ranged from 12 to 41 percent.

· Sixty-nine percent of all students demonstrated the more advanced skill of reading text material, and 33 percent were reading at the first grade level and above.

· Acquisition of foundational reading skills among FARMS and ESOL students grew from 4 percent at the beginning of the year to 65 percent by year’s end.

· Seventy-seven percent of students only in FARMS achieved the foundational reading skills, compared to 13 percent at the beginning of the year.

· Eighty-nine percent of students who were not in either FARMS or ESOL achieved the foundational skills, compared with 30 percent at the outset of the year.

· Students in both ESOL and FARMS gained more foundational skills in full-day kindergarten (71 percent), compared to students in half-day kindergarten (54 percent).

· Students who were not in either ESOL or FARMS had about the same skill acquisition in either full-day kindergarten (91 percent) or half-day kindergarten (89 percent).

· Students in both FARMS and ESOL who also had participated in Head Start gained more foundational skills in full-day kindergarten (76 percent), compared to half-day kindergarten (49 percent).

· In full-day kindergarten, students in both ESOL and FARMS who also had been in Head Start outperformed students in both ESOL and FARMS without Head Start (76 percent to 65 percent).

· Four-year-old students in kindergarten lagged behind 5-year-old students in acquiring foundational skills throughout the year, with 83 percent of 5-year-olds acquiring the skills, compared to 73 percent among 4-year-olds.

The changes to the kindergarten curriculum, which were implemented for the first time last year, included increased blocks of time for reading, writing, and mathematics. Specific blocks of time also were used, along with prescribed instructional materials and a written instructional guide. Teachers also participated in an intensive training program.

Teachers’ use of ECAP allowed them to gather language and literacy performance data to determine student progress and group students for instructional purposes. Teachers also were provided a kindergarten handbook that contained assessment tools to acquire in-depth and continuous information about their students’ progress in literacy development. Each teacher had access to a systemwide assessment profile for each student.

The school system also implemented a revised kindergarten report card to inform parents of students’ progress.

The full report and presentation charts are available online at the links below.

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