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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Early Childhood

May 2018


What practices have states employed to align kindergarten curriculum, instruction, or teacher professional development to state kindergarten readiness standards/definitions?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on states’ practices to align kindergarten curriculum, instruction, or teacher professional development to state kindergarten readiness standards. In particular, we focused on identifying resources published within the last 10 years. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bassok, D., Latham, S., & Rorem, A. (2016). Is kindergarten the new first grade? AERA Open, 2(1). Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Recent accounts suggest that accountability pressures have trickled down into the early elementary grades and that kindergarten today is characterized by a heightened focus on academic skills and a reduction in opportunities for play. This paper compares public school kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010 using two large, nationally representative data sets. We show substantial changes in each of the five dimensions considered: kindergarten teachers’ beliefs about school readiness, time spent on academic and nonacademic content, classroom organization, pedagogical approach, and use of standardized assessments. Kindergarten teachers in the later period held far higher academic expectations for children both prior to kindergarten entry and during the kindergarten year. They devoted more time to advanced literacy and math content, teacher-directed instruction, and assessment and substantially less time to art, music, science, and child-selected activities.”

Bassok, D., & Latham, S. (2017). Kids today: The rise in children’s academic skills at kindergarten entry. Educational Researcher, 46 (1), 7–20. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Private and public investments in early childhood education have expanded significantly in recent years. Despite this heightened investment, we have little empirical evidence on whether children today enter school with different skills than they did in the late nineties. Using two large, nationally representative data sets, this article documents how students entering kindergarten in 2010 compare to those who entered in 1998 in terms of their teacher-reported math, literacy, and behavioral skills. Our results indicate that students in the more recent cohort entered kindergarten with stronger math and literacy skills. Results for behavioral outcomes were mixed. Increases in academic skills over this period were particularly pronounced among Black children. Implications for policy are discussed.”

Briggs, J. O., Russell, J. L., & Wanless, S. B. (2018). Kindergarten teacher buy-in for standards-based reforms: A dynamic interplay between professional identity and perceptions of control. Early Education and Development, 29(1), 125–142. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Political and societal pressures are influencing kindergarten teachers and their classroom practices on a national level. Teachers’ receptivity to reforms depends to a large degree on their buy-in to the change effort. Drawing on analyses of interviews with kindergarten teachers across school and districts, this study examined teacher buy-in to an increased academic focus in kindergarten and in turn the factors that influence buy-in. Research Findings: Analyses revealed that kindergarten teachers in the same schools and districts had qualitatively different responses to the increased academic focus in kindergarten. Teachers’ professional identity, sense of control, and interactions with school leaders emerged as factors influencing teacher buy-in. Practice or Policy: The role of teacher buy-in as a crucial component in times of change is discussed. Specifically, situating reforms in the context of implementation science and teacher well-being is discussed.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

DeBruin-Parecki, A., & Slutsky, C. (2016). Exploring pre-K age 4 learning standards and their role in early childhood education: Research and policy implications (ETS-RR16-14). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Currently in the United States, 50 states, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia have established prekindergarten (pre-K) age 4 learning standards that are intended to outline skills and knowledge that set children on a path to success in kindergarten and upcoming grades. These standards are emphasized as a centralizing force in early childhood education, providing a bridge strengthening ties between preschool and elementary grades. This report presents a national study of pre-K age 4 learning standards based on an online survey completed by early childhood state and territory directors and administrators, geographically diverse focus groups representing a subsample of survey respondents, and one-on-one interviews composed of a sample of both focus group and survey participants. Data were collected from these sources and by direct examination of pre-K age 4 learning standards documents. Responses to survey, focus group, and interview questions advanced current knowledge regarding the purpose, history, and development of pre-K age 4 learning standards, comprehensiveness of standards documents, standards-related supports for teachers, and pre-K to kindergarten alignment. Systematic analysis of pre-K age 4 learning standards documents revealed extensive variation across titles, organization, terminology, and enriching materials, such as teacher strategies and child examples that assist teachers in implementing standards. A surprising finding is the positive view among early childhood leaders in focus groups and interviews toward establishing national pre-K age 4 learning standards. The report concludes with a brief discussion of implications of this study followed by recommendations to inform state and federal early childhood leaders, education-focused philanthropic foundations, and others in the field of early childhood education.”

Hustedt, J. T., Buell, M. J., Hallam, R. A., & Pinder, W. M. (2018). While kindergarten has changed, some beliefs stay the same: Kindergarten teachers’ beliefs about readiness. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 32(1), 52-66. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Kindergarten has become increasingly academically oriented, and U.S. kindergarten teachers are increasingly called upon to implement policies that require assessment and promote accountability. However, little recent research has focused on kindergarten teachers’ beliefs about kindergarten readiness. The authors examined teachers’ beliefs related to what entering kindergartners should be able to do, and beliefs about using assessment data, based on results from statewide surveys of Delaware kindergarten teachers conducted in 2000 (N = 171), in 2011 (N = 185), and again in 2013 (N = 257). Chi-squared tests were employed to investigate potential changes in teacher beliefs over time. Results show that kindergarten teachers increasingly prioritize assessment information across all broad domains of development at kindergarten entry. However, when ranking specific readiness skills, they continue to believe that nonacademic skills are most important. These findings suggest that though policies promote an academic emphasis in kindergarten, teachers, as policy enactors, take a more nuanced view and continue to recognize nonacademic skills as a key component of kindergarten readiness. This has potential implications for early care and education programming, teacher preparation programs, and teachers’ practices in kindergarten classrooms.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Little, M. H., & Cohen–Vogel, L. (2016). Too much too soon? An analysis of the discourses used by policy advocates in the debate over kindergarten. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 24(106). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In recent years, a debate over kindergarten has ensued. We refer to the actors in this debate as ‘developmentalists,’ on the one hand, and ‘academic advocates,’ on the other. Developmentalists argue that kindergarten should be centered on child–initiated play and intentional teaching through play, art activities, and hands on activities. Academic advocates argue that young children are capable of learning academic content in kindergarten and that academic instruction is necessary to help some students ‘catch up’ before formal schooling begins. In this paper, we identify the key policy organizations engaged in this debate and analyze the ways they construct their arguments and critique the positions of their opponents. We find that, when discussing their vision for kindergarten, developmentalists and academic advocates share similar goals and views. However, when we analyze the ways the two agendas discuss kindergarten as it is practiced today, clear divisions emerge. Specifically, the agendas use different types of causal narratives to describe the problems with kindergarten and how it got that way. We conclude with a discussion of policy implications and directions for future research.”

Miller, E., & Almon, J. (2009). Crisis in the kindergarten: Why children need to play in school. College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Kindergarten has changed significantly in the last two decades: children now spend more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations. Many kindergartens use highly prescriptive curricula geared to new state standards and linked to standardized tests. In an increasing number of kindergartens, teachers must follow scripts from which they may not deviate. These practices, argue the authors, violate long-established principles of child development and good teaching, and compromise both children's health and their long-term prospects for success in school. The authors direct this report to policymakers, educators, health professional, researchers and parents to: (1) Restore child–initiated play and experiential learning to a central role in kindergarten education; (2) Reassess kindergarten standards to ensure that they promote developmentally appropriate practices, and eliminate those that do not; (3) End the inappropriate use in kindergarten of standardized tests; (4) Expand the early childhood research agenda to examine the long–term impact of current preschool and kindergarten practices on the development of children from diverse backgrounds; (5) Give teachers of young children preparation that emphasizes the full development of the child and the importance of play, nurtures children‚s innate love of learning, and supports teachers‚ own capacities for creativity, autonomy, and integrity; and (6) Rally organizations and individuals to create a national movement for play in schools and communities.”

Rentner, D. S., Kober, N., Frizzell, M., & Ferguson, M. (2016). Listening to and learning from teachers: A summary of focus groups on the Common Core and assessments. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved from https://www.cep–

From the abstract: “This report summarizes discussions from five elementary teacher focus groups conducted in Delaware, Illinois, Utah, and Wisconsin in spring and summer of 2016. Topics addressed include the Common Core State Standards, curricula, instructional materials, CCSS–aligned state assessments, student achievement data from those assessments, and accountability. Where possible, the teachers‚ comments are compared to the findings from CEP’s 2015 teacher survey.”

Repko–Erwin, M. E. (2017). Was kindergarten left behind? Examining US kindergarten as the new first grade in the wake of “No Child Left Behind.” Global Education Review, 4(2), 58–74. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Since the passage of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) in 2001, public schools in the United States have witnessed an influx of reforms intended to elevate students’ academic standing in a global economy. The unprecedented federal involvement in education resulting from the passage of NCLB has propelled a nationwide movement to standardize instruction, raise achievement levels, and hold schools accountable for improved student outcomes. The kindergarten classroom has not been immune to these efforts. This critical review of literature published within the years 2001–2016 synthesizes empirical and theoretical research centered on US kindergarten post–NCLB. Connecting NCLB’s increased emphasis on standards and accountability to issues of kindergarten readiness, the role of academics, play, and developmental appropriateness in kindergarten, and changes in kindergarten literacy instruction, the author examines the complicated nature of teaching and learning in kindergarten in the wake of NCLB, with implications for research, policy, and practice.”

Stipek, D., Franke, M., Clements, D., Farran, D., & Coburn, C. (2017). PK-3: What does it mean for instruction? (Social Policy Report, Volume 30, Number 2). Society for Research in Child Development. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “‘PK–3’ has become a rallying cry among many developmental scientists and educators. A central component of this movement is alignment between preschool and the early elementary grades. Many districts have made policy changes designed to promote continuity in children’s educational experiences as they progress from preschool through third grade—to provide children with a seamless education that will sustain the gains made in preschool and lead to better developmental and learning outcomes overall. This report proposes a conceptualization of productive continuity in academic instruction, as well as in the social climate and classroom management practices that might affect children’s social-emotional development. It also considers ways in which schools might seek to achieve continuity in parents’ and children’s experiences. Finally, the report proposes specific state and district policies and school practices that are likely to promote continuous and meaningful learning experiences.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “common core” alignment kindergarten

  • descriptor:alignment (Education) + kindergarten

  • descriptor: “kindergarten” descriptor: “academic standards”

  • kindergarten policy

  • PK-3 Principals

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 10 years, from 2009 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.