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IES Grant

Title: Classroom Age Composition and Children's Early Learning: Understanding the Role of Classroom Practices
Center: NCER Year: 2019
Principal Investigator: Purtell, Kelly Awardee: Ohio State University
Program: Early Learning Programs and Policies      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2019-06/30/2023) Award Amount: $1,399,989
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A190302

Purpose: This project seeks to understand associations between preschool classroom age composition, classroom practices, and children's early learning and social development. There is a lack of research examining how a child's age is related to learning and social development in mixed-age classrooms. Do teachers' classroom practices in mixed-age classrooms serve as a mechanism for differential gains of 3- versus 4-year-olds in these settings? Researchers will examine associations between classroom age composition and child outcomes. They will also describe teacher beliefs and their classroom practices. Results will advance our understanding of mixed-age settings in early education programs, especially the classroom practices and processes that may influence the learning and development of 3- and 4-year-olds.

Project Activities: The researchers will collect data from three cohorts of participants, each lasting one preschool year. Data collection will include direct child assessments in the fall and spring of the school year, classroom observations (fall and spring) as well as brief teacher and parent surveys. A subset of teachers will participate in semi-structured interviews at the end of the school year. The researchers will conduct quantitative and qualitative data analyses to answer the research questions. They will disseminate study findings about the associations between classroom practices and processes and child outcomes.

Products: Researchers will produce preliminary evidence of potentially promising teacher and classroom practices and processes that are associated with children's school readiness skills. They will produce peer-reviewed publications, policy briefs, and presentations to share the study findings with researchers and practitioners.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in center-based preschool programs in urban, suburban and rural sites throughout Ohio.

Sample: The sample for this study includes 150 preschool classrooms and teachers and 2,250 children. These classrooms will come from a variety of center-based settings, including publicly funded programs, Head Start centers, and private child care centers.

Malleable Factors: The malleable factors include classroom age composition, instructional content, differentiation, grouping strategies, and other aspects of teacher practices in mixed age classrooms. The practices represent malleable factors that could result in improvements in children's school success.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will use a three-cohort design to collect data from children, classrooms, and teachers. They will recruit 40 classrooms in the first cohort and 55 classrooms in each of the following two cohorts, for a total sample of 150 classrooms. Each of the three cohorts will participate for one academic year (Year 1/Cohort 1, Year 2/Cohort 2, and Year 3/Cohort 3). For each cohort, researchers will collect child-level data in fall and spring of the school year to examine gains in academic skills and changes in behavior across the school year. They will also conduct direct classroom observations twice during the school year, once in the fall and once in the spring. Additionally, the researchers will ask teachers to complete two questionnaires: one in the fall and one in the spring. They will conduct qualitative teacher interviews at the end of the school year. In year 4, the researchers will conduct data analyses and disseminate the study findings.

Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: Primary measures for this study include classroom age composition, classroom-level processes (including instructional content, differentiation, grouping strategies, and student experiences), and children's early learning (literacy, language, and math) and social behavioral development (behavior problems, social competence, and self-regulation). Primary measures of student outcomes include direct assessments using the Woodcock Johnson III and the Head-to-Toes task, and teacher reports from the Teacher-Child Rating Scale.The research team will measure classroom processes with a combination of teacher report and classroom observations. Observational measures include the Classroom Assessment Scoring System and the Classroom Observation System.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use a multilevel structural equation modeling framework for the study analysis to account for the nesting of children within their classrooms and will adjust for a full set of child-, family-, and, classroom-level covariates, including lagged dependent variables. To test for mediation, they will use the product-of-coefficients approach with bootstrapped standard errors. To test for moderation, the researchers will generate interaction terms between the indicator of age composition and their classroom- and student-level moderators. Missing data will be addressed using full information maximum likelihood estimation and multiple imputation. The researchers will use thematic coding to answer qualitative research questions.