IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Computerized Preschool Language Assessment Extends to Toddlers

Identifying young children with language delays can improve later outcomes

Language is a core ability that children must master for success both in and out of the classroom. Extensive studies have shown that many tasks, including math, depend on linguistic skill, and that early language skills are predictive of school readiness and academic success. Being able to quickly identify children at early ages with language delays is crucial for targeting effective interventions.

Enter the QUILS.

In 2011, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) at IES funded a 4-year grant to Dr. Roberta Golinkoff (University of Delaware) and Drs. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Temple University) and Jill de Villiers (Smith College) to develop a valid and reliable computer-based language assessment for preschoolers aged 3-5 years old. The resulting product was the Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS), a computerized tool to measure vocabulary, syntax, and language acquisition skills. The assessment ultimately measures what a child knows about language and how a child learns, and automatically provides results and reports to the teacher.

The preschool version of QUILS is now being used by early childhood educators, administrators, reading specialists, speech-language pathologists, and other early childhood professionals working with young children to identify language delays. The QUILS is also being utilized in other learning domains. For example, a new study relied on the QUILS, among other measures, to examine links between approaches to learning and science readiness in over 300 Head Start students aged 3 to 5 years.

QUILS is now being revised for use with toddlers. In 2016, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) funded a 3-year study to revise the QUILS for use with children aged 24-36 months. The researchers have been testing the tool in both laboratory and natural (child care centers, homes, and Early Head Start programs) settings to determine which assessment items to use in the toddler version of QUILS. Ultimately, these researchers aim to develop a valid and reliable assessment to identify children with language delays so that appropriate interventions can begin early.

By Amanda M. Dettmer, AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow Sponsored by the American Psychological Association Executive Branch Science Fellowship

The experiences of our nation’s young children from kindergarten through fourth grade

By Jill Carlivati McCarroll and Gail M. Mulligan

In 2014–15, boys had higher fourth-grade math scores than girls, but no significant differences were found in boys’ versus girls’ fourth-grade reading knowledge and skills. These findings come from the most recent data release for the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). A recently released report provides a first look at the status of students who were in kindergarten for the first time during the 2010-11 school year and were in fourth grade in 2014-15. The longitudinal nature of this study allows for a comparison of trends over time. For example, differences in math scores between boys and girls were also observed in third grade but not in earlier grades. No significant differences in reading results for boys and girls have been detected in any grade between kindergarten and fourth. More data on assessment scores, as well as the demographic and family characteristics of the cohort of students who were first-time kindergartners in 2010-11, are available in the reports.

The series of Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies are consistently some of the most popular NCES studies due in large part to the fact that they provide comprehensive and reliable data on important topics such as child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. The ECLS-K:2011 was designed to provide data that can be used to describe and to better understand children’s development and experiences in the elementary grades, and how children’s early experiences relate to their later development, learning, and experiences in school. The study is longitudinal, meaning that it followed the same group of children over time; in the case of the ECLS-K:2011, children were followed from their kindergarten year (the 2010-11 school year) until the spring of 2016, when most of the children were in the fifth grade.

All planned waves of data through fifth grade have been collected and staff at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) are hard at work releasing reports of the findings as well as the data from all rounds of the study. Researchers, educators, policy makers, and other interested members of the public now have access to much of the important data from the ECLS-K:2011, with additional reports and data releases on their way.

The diverse sample of children who participated in the ECLS-K:2011 is nationally representative of students who were in kindergarten in U.S. schools in the 2010-11 school year. Information on children’s cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development was collected every year using direct child assessments and surveys for the adults central to the children’s education. Adults surveyed for the study included the children’s parents/guardians, their teachers, their school administrators, and their kindergarten before- and after-school care providers. Topics covered by the surveys included the children’s home environment, home educational activities, school environment, classroom environment, classroom curriculum, teacher qualifications, and before- and after-school care. 

Public-use data from the kindergarten through fourth-grade rounds of the ECLS-K:2011 are now available online. A restricted-use dataset with data from the kindergarten through fourth-grade rounds is also available to qualified researchers with an IES Restricted-use Data License. For information on licensing, please see https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/licenses.asp. The schedule of future data releases is available on the ECLS website.

For more information on the ECLS-K:2011 as well as the other ECLS studies, please see our homepage or email the ECLS study team at ECLS@ed.gov.  

Taking Education Research Out of the Lab and Into the Real World

The Institute of Education Sciences is committed to supporting research that develops and tests solutions to the challenges facing education in the United States and working to share the results of that research with a broad audience of policymakers and practitioners. In this blog post, Katherine Pears (pictured right), a principal investigator from the Oregon Social Learning Center, shares how an IES-funded grant supported not only the development and testing of an intervention, but its implementation in classrooms.

Sometimes when I tell people that I am a research scientist, they say "Ok, but what do you do?" What they are really asking is whether the work I am doing is helping students and families in actual schools and community. It’s a good question and the short answer is “Yes!” but moving programs from the research lab to children, families and schools takes time and funding. Here is how it worked with my program.

I wanted to help children at risk for school failure to start kindergarten with skills to help them to do better. I teamed up with Dr. Phil Fisher and others, and we built on years of research and program development at the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) to create a program called Kids in Transition to School (KITS). This is a summer program that continues into the first few weeks of school and focuses not only on letters and numbers, but also on teaching children how to get along with others and how to learn (such as focusing their attention). We also train the KITS teachers to use positive teaching strategies and help parents learn the same techniques to increase the chances that children will succeed.

However, before a school will put a program like KITS in place, they need to have some proof that it will actually work. That is why we sought external funding to evaluate the program.  With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), as well as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), we were able to test KITS with three different groups of children at high risk for difficulties in school: children in foster care, children with developmental disabilities and behavior problems, and children from low-income neighborhoods. 

Across these studies, KITS led to positive outcomes for children and the parents. Funding from IES helped us show that the KITS Program worked with different groups of children and that it was a good candidate for use in school settings. In many cases, this is where the process of moving programs from research to practice can get bogged down due to a gap between researchers and the people in the education systems that could use the programs. IES is strongly committed to bridging that gap by supporting partnerships between researchers and practitioners. In our IES-funded study, we partnered with two of our local school districts and United Way of Lane County (UWLC). Working with the schools and community agencies helped us to both test KITS and develop plans for how the districts could keep the program going after the funding for the research study ended.

Our partnership with UWLC also enabled us to start a new project to bring KITS to more schools. With funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Social Innovation Fund, UWLC offered grants to education foundations in Lane County, Oregon to implement KITS in the local school districts. The Social Innovation Fund allows promising programs to be brought to scale (i.e., made available to large numbers of people) by providing funding for community agencies to start and develop plans for sustaining these programs. In 2015, the KITS Program had about 30 educators serving about 120 children and families in 6 school districts in Lane County, Oregon. By summer 2017, two years into the grant, the KITS Program had trained 125 educators to serve approximately 435 children and families in 13 school districts in the county. That’s more than a threefold increase in the number of children and families served, as well as the number of teachers trained in the KITS Program.

We will continue to work with partners to evaluate the effects of the KITS program and make it available to more school districts. However, without the funding from IES and other federal agencies, we would not have been able to both test the program and partner with schools to make KITS a part of their everyday practice. 

 

Risk Factors and Academic Outcomes in Kindergarten through Third Grade

By Amy Rathbun, AIR and Joel McFarland

Previous NCES research has shown that students with family risk factors tend to have lower average scores than their peers on academic assessments.[1] Risk factors can include coming from a low-income family or single-parent household, not having a parent who completed high school, and living in a household where the primary language is not English. How common is it for children entering U.S. kindergartens to have certain types of family risk factors? And, how do children with risk factors at kindergarten entry perform on academic assessments compared to their peers?  A new spotlight from The Condition of Education 2017 helps to answer these questions.

The spotlight focuses on children experiencing two types of risk factors - living in poverty (i.e., in households with income below the federal poverty threshold) and not having a parent who completed high school, as well as the combination and lack of the two risk factors. Data come from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011). During the 2010–11 school year, 6 percent of first-time kindergartners had both risk factors , 18 percent had the single risk factor of living in poverty, and 2 percent had the single risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school. About 75 percent had neither of these two risk factors present during their kindergarten year.


Percentage distribution of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by risk factors related to parent education and poverty: School year 2010–11

NOTE: Detail may not sum to totals because of rounding.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 220.39.


Are there differences in the prevalence of risk factors by student and family characteristics?

There were differences in the prevalence of family risk factors in relation to children’s race/ethnicity, primary home language, and family composition. For instance, it was more common for Hispanic students (15 percent) than for Black and Asian students (8 percent each) to have both risk factors, and these percentages were all higher than the percentage for White students (1 percent). Also, 23 percent of first-time kindergartners whose primary home language was not English had both the risk factor of living in poverty and the risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school, compared with 2 percent of kindergartners whose primary home language was English.

Does children’s performance in reading, math, and science in kindergarten through third grade differ based on risk factors?

Kindergarten students living in poverty and those with no parent that completed high school tended to score lower in reading, mathematics, and science over each of their first four years of school compared to their peers who had neither risk factor at kindergarten entry. For example, in the spring of third-grade, reading scores (on a scale of 0 to 141) were higher, on average, for students who had neither risk factor (114 points) than for those with the single risk factor of living in poverty (106 points), those with the single risk factor of not having a parent who completed high school (105 points), and those with both risk factors (102 points).[2]


Average reading scale scores of fall 2010 first-time kindergartners, by time of assessment and risk factors related to parent education and poverty: Fall 2010 through spring 2014

NOTE: Estimates weighted by W7C17P_7T170. Scores on the reading assessments reflect performance on questions measuring basic skills (print familiarity, letter recognition, beginning and ending sounds, rhyming words, and word recognition); vocabulary knowledge; and reading comprehension, including identifying information specifically stated in text (e.g., definitions, facts, and supporting details), making complex inferences from texts, and considering the text objectively and judging its appropriateness and quality. Possible scores for the reading assessment range from 0 to 141.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010–11 (ECLS-K:2011), Kindergarten–Third Grade Restricted-Use Data File. See Digest of Education Statistics 2016, table 220.40.


For more information on family risk factors and children’s achievement in reading, mathematics, and science from the fall of kindergarten through the spring of third grade, see the spotlight on this topic in The Condition of Education 2017.

[1] Given that the spring third-grade reading scores have a mean of 110.2 points and a standard deviation (SD) of 12.3 points, this would mean the average score for children who had no risk factors was about 1.0 SD higher than the score for children with no risk factors.

[2] Rathbun, A., and West, J. (2004). From Kindergarten Through Third Grade: Children's Beginning School Experiences (NCES 2004–007). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2004007.

 

 

Changes in Children’s Nonparental Care Arrangements From 2001 to 2012

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

While the percentage of children in nonparental care arrangements remained unchanged between 2001 and 2012, the cost of those arrangements increased significantly. These findings come from a recently released report from NCES, The Years Before School: Children’s Nonparental Care Arrangements From 2001 to 2012. Childcare arrangements are influential in children’s early education, and can often be where children learn early literacy and numeracy skills that are important for kindergarten entry.[1]

While the percentage of children who participated in a nonparental care arrangement remained statistically unchanged from 2001 to 2012, there were shifts in the patterns of relative,[2] nonrelative,[3] and center-based care arrangements.[4] For instance, from 2001 to 2012, the percentage of children who had a relative care arrangement increased (from 22 percent to 26 percent) as did the percentage of children who had multiple arrangements (from 10 percent to 12 percent). In both 2001 and 2012, the greatest percentage of children participated in center-based care.


Percentage of children from birth to age 5 who are not yet in kindergarten, by type of nonparental care arrangement: 2001, 2005, and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) Survey, 2001, 2005, and 2012.


There were higher out-of-pocket hourly expenses for care in 2012 than in 2001 for children in all types of care arrangements. The expense for center-based care increased by 58 percent and that of relative care by 57 percent, while the expense for nonrelative care increased by 25 percent.


Percentage of children from birth to age 5 who are not yet in kindergarten, by type of weekly nonparental care arrangement and child’s age: 2001, 2005, and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) Survey, 2001, 2005, and 2012.


In 2012, out-of-pocket hourly expenses for children in center-based programs were the most expensive for families, averaging $6.70 per hour—60 percent higher than relative care ($4.18 per hour) and 27 percent higher than nonrelative care ($5.28 per hour).

Data used for this report come from the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) Early Childhood Program Participation Surveys (ECPP) collected every several years. This study is different from most NCES data collections in that it focuses on children before they enter formal schooling. In addition to collecting information on children’s early care and education arrangements, parents are also asked about early learning, such as how high the child can count and whether the child can recognize the letters of the alphabet. Learn more about the variables included in the study by visiting the website or accessing the First Look report.

 

[1] Flanagan, K.D., and McPhee, C. (2009). The Children Born in 2001 at Kindergarten Entry: First Findings From the Kindergarten Data Collections of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) (NCES 2010-005). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.

[2] Relative care: care provided by a relative (e.g., grandparent, aunt/uncle, brother/sister, or another relative) in either the child’s home or another home. Relative care does not include the child’s parents or guardians (e.g., a father or mother caring for the child).

[3] Nonrelative care: care provided by a nonrelative, either in the child’s home or another home. It includes care provided by home child care providers or neighbors, but not day care centers or preschools.

[4] Center-based care: care provided by day care centers, preschools, prekindergarten programs, Head Start programs, and other early childhood programs.