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Institute of Education Sciences

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IES Grant

Title: Creating a Connecticut Early Childhood Education Research Alliance
Center: NCER Year: 2014
Principal Investigator: Strambler, Michael Awardee: Yale University
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/2014-6/30/2016) Award Amount: $399,728
Award Number: R305H140142

Name of Partners: Yale University School of Medicine, Education Development Center, and Cooperative Education Services

Education Issue: Connecticut currently has the largest achievement gap between low-income and non-low income students in the country, according to indicators on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. On a national level, there is strong evidence that the achievement gap is present at school entry and has powerful influences on children’s achievement trajectories. Such findings point to the importance of children’s early educational experiences that take place prior to school entry. Many states have made efforts to improve preschool experiences for children, including developing Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) to assess the quality of preschool settings and provide consumers with information on the ratings of such programs. Currently, Connecticut is in the process of developing such a system based on the recommendations made by the state’s Early Childhood Education Cabinet.

While Connecticut has yet to complete its QRIS, the state has taken important steps towards strengthening the quality of preschool settings and the assessment of such settings. These steps include the development of a preschool assessment measure and the creation of a newly formed Office of Early Childhood (OEC). Connecticut developed the Connecticut Preschool Assessment Framework (CTPAF) in 2008. The measure, which was designed in alignment with a preschool curriculum framework, is intended to assess students’ abilities in various domains of ability. However, since the State does not mandate or collect these data, little is known about how students perform on the measure and whether it is predictive of kindergarten readiness. In the proposed project, the partners will establish a research alliance to address questions related to children’s performance on the CTPAF, the association between preschool and kindergarten performance, and the role of teacher factors that may contribute to children’s performance on the CTPAF and the state’s kindergarten readiness assessments.

Partnership significance and goal: The main research goals of the alliance include understanding how children perform on state-developed preschool measures; how preschool child outcomes predict kindergarten outcomes; and what teacher and school-level factors contribute to preschool and kindergarten performance. This will serve as a starting point for approaching the larger question of what kinds of climate and teaching practices impact preschool performance. A series of research agenda-setting work sessions (as described below) will be used to further develop the goals of the alliance and specific topics to be addressed in future years. Secondary data sources will be used to conduct analyses to address the research aims of the alliance.

Partners and Partnership Activities: The proposed research alliance consists of three levels of membership: core members, supporting members, and affiliates. The core members of the alliance consist of researchers at Yale University School of Medicine and Educational Development Center, and practitioners at Cooperative Education Services. Supporting members include the school districts of Bridgeport Public Schools, Stamford Public Schools, and Norwalk Public Schools. Additional supporting members include the Connecticut Department of Education and the new State Office of Early Childhood. Affiliate members will consist of all other individuals, groups, organizations, and institutions interested in the alliance and its mission. Additionally, the alliance will include two expert advisors, who will provide general guidance for the alliance and serve as internal reviewers of reports produced by the alliance.

Over a two-year period, the alliance will engage in development, outreach, research, and sustainability activities. During Year 1, the primary focus for the alliance development work will involve setting up protocols for collecting and storing data. A main outreach goal for the first year will focus on making connections with the early learning centers (center-based preschools) in the cities of Bridgeport, Stamford, and Norwalk. To accomplish this, the partners will work together to introduce the alliance to early childhood centers and request their support and participation in the alliance as supporting members. Year 1 research will focus on establishing a research review team that will have the responsibility of reviewing and critiquing all research reports prior to public release.

The main development goal for year two is to establish the alliance’s future research agenda (beyond year two) and key research questions. To ensure that the multi-year research agenda is cohesive and addresses the interests of all core alliance members and their constituents, a series of research agenda-setting workshops will be conducted with alliance members. A primary outreach goal for year two will involve organizing a conference to take place at the end of the year. In addition to the conference, the partners will work with a web designer to develop a website to publically share information about the alliance. They will also finalize data-sharing agreements with the State Department of Education and center-based preschool programs. A main research goal for year two will be to finalize analyses for the research questions outlined in this proposal. This process will also result in two final reports: a technical research report and a policy report, which will be distributed to all interested parties and posted on the website.

Setting: The research will be conducted in Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford school districts in Connecticut.

Population/Sample: The sample consists of all public preschool children in Bridgeport, Stamford, and Norwalk (approximately 1,200 children). Additionally, private early learning centers will be invited to participate in the alliance and to share data.

Initial Analysis: Measures include Connecticut’s first statewide measure of preschool performance for 3- and 4-year-old children, the Connecticut Preschool Assessment Framework (CTPAF). A similar measure, the Kindergarten Entrance Inventory (KEI) is administered to children at school entry and will be examined as an outcome of the CTPAF. The Developmental Reading Assessment, Second Edition (DRA2), administered in kindergarten, will also be examined as an outcome. Researchers will conduct analyses over a four-year time period. To address the research questions concerning students’ performance on the CTPF, basic descriptive statistics will be conducted for each year. To address questions concerning how preschool performance predicts kindergarten performance, the research team will use regression analyses with individual–level preschool performance as an independent variable and kindergarten performance as an outcome. Researchers will use regression analysis to address questions on teacher and setting-level factors that contribute to strong performance.