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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

Early Childhood

February 2018


What does the research say about defining and measuring school readiness? What does the research say about school readiness risks and interventions for students with school readiness concerns?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies, and literature reviews on the definitions and measurement of school readiness. In addition, we searched for resources related to predictors of school readiness as well as interventions and curricula for students with school readiness concerns. For details on the databases, 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. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Bierman, K. L., Heinrichs, B. S., Welsh, J. A., Nix, R. L., & Gest, S. D. (2017). Enriching preschool classrooms and home visits with evidence-based programming: Sustained benefits for low-income children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(2), 129–137. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Background: Growing up in poverty undermines healthy development, producing disparities in the cognitive and social-emotional skills that support early learning and mental health. Preschool and home-visiting interventions for low-income children have the potential to build early cognitive and social-emotional skills, reducing the disparities in school readiness that perpetuate the cycle of poverty. However, longitudinal research suggests that the gains low-income children make during preschool interventions often fade at school entry and disappear by early elementary school. Methods: In an effort to improve the benefits for low-income children, the REDI program enriched Head Start preschool classrooms (study one) and home visits (study two) with evidence-based programming, documenting positive intervention effects in two randomized trials. In this study, REDI participants were followed longitudinally, to evaluate the sustained impact of the classroom and home-visiting enrichments 3 years later, when children were in second grade. The combined sample included 556 children (55% European American, 25% African American, 19% Latino; 49% male): 288 children received the classroom intervention, 105 children received the classroom intervention plus the home-visiting intervention, and 173 children received usual practice Head Start. Results: The classroom intervention led to sustained benefits in social-emotional skills, improving second grade classroom participation, student-teacher relationships, social competence, and peer relations. The coordinated home-visiting intervention produced additional benefits in child mental health (perceived social competence and peer relations) and cognitive skills (reading skills, academic performance). Significant effects ranged from 25% to 48% of a standard deviation, representing important effects of small to moderate magnitude relative to usual practice Head Start. Conclusions: Preschool classroom and home-visiting programs for low-income children can be improved with the use of evidence-based programming, reducing disparities and promoting complementary benefits that sustain in elementary school.”

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.

Brooks-Gunn, J. (2003). Do you believe in magic?: What we can expect from early childhood intervention programs (Vol. 17, pp. 1–14). Washington, DC: Society for Research in Child Development. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This document is comprised of the four 2003 issues of a publication providing a forum for scholarly reviews and discussion of developmental research and implications for social policies affecting children. Each issue focuses on a single topic as follows: (1) ‘Do You Believe in Magic?: What We Can Expect from Early Childhood Intervention Programs’ (Jeanne Brooks-Gunn); (2) ‘Kindergarten: An Overlooked Educational Policy Priority’ (Sara Vecchiotti); (3) ‘Toward an Understanding of Youth in Community Governance: Policy Priorities and Research Directions’ (Shepherd Zeldin, Linda Camino, and Matthew Calvert); and (4) ‘Juveniles’ Competence To Stand Trial as Adults.’”

Caron, B., Kendall, R., Wilson, G., & Hash, M. (2017). Taking on the challenge: Building a strong foundation for early learning. Early Learning Challenge Summary Report. Herndon, VA: AEM Corp. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This final report prepared by Early Learning Challenge Technical Assistance staff summarizes of ELC progress across the five years of Phase 1 grantees, four years of Phase 2 grantees, and three years of Phase 3 grantees. It covers the major focus areas of the ELC program: State systems; QRIS; workforce; data systems; family engagement; local and community initiatives; and measuring progress (including developmental screenings and kindergarten entry assessments). It also includes ELC State Profiles for each of the 20 ELC States.”

Brown, E. G., & Scott-Little, C. (2003). Evaluations of school readiness initiatives: What are we learning? SERVE’s expanded learning opportunities national leadership area research report. Greensboro, NC: SERVE. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Encouraged by evidence linking quality early care/education programs and improved student outcomes, a variety of school readiness programs and initiatives have been created. This report reviews and synthesizes evaluation studies conducted on early childhood interventions, focusing on programs emphasizing a school readiness goal. The report provides an overview of the evidence regarding effects of model early care and education programs and describes the program characteristics associated with program effectiveness. An extensive, systematic search of the literature identified 32 impact evaluations of recent school readiness initiatives, with selection criteria used to identify 20 studies most relevant to the research questions. Results from 11 studies coded as pre-experimental or correlational were analyzed and reported separately from the 9 quasi-experimental or experimental studies. Based on the synthesis, it was concluded that wide-scale school readiness interventions can have moderate effects on child outcomes, with the strongest evidence for benefits to children’s social-emotional development. Positive results were also reported for language/literacy, mathematical thinking, and physical/health development, and for outcomes such as better attendance or fewer referrals for special services once the child entered school. The report notes that it was difficult to discern whether specific program features were associated with positive participant outcomes because experimental and quasi-experimental designs typically did not examine these relationships. Implications for program evaluation relate to research design and instrumentation as well as to program quality and the classroom dynamics. The report's two appendices include the data coding sheeting and tables delineating program characteristics and design characteristics of quasi-experimental and experimental evaluations, instruments used and outcomes assessed, and program and design characteristics of pre-experimental evaluations.”

Condliffe, B., Foster, A., & Jacob, R. (2017). Summer boost: Challenges and opportunities in summer programs for rising kindergarten students. New York, NY: MDRC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “There is a growing belief that access to academic opportunities during the summer can help close the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers. But while significant research is emerging on summer programs for school-age children, information on the preschool period is limited. The Expanding Children’s Early Learning (ExCEL) Network is examining the potential benefits of a summer enrichment program to promote school readiness skills for children about to enter kindergarten. The ExCEL Summer Project initiated a learning network of practitioners, policymakers, and researchers with the aim of connecting theories about the promise of summer programs preceding kindergarten, existing research about features of effective summer programs for school-age children, and the day-to-day realities of implementing these programs for rising kindergarten students. This is the second in a series of issue briefs on the ExCEL Network. This brief introduces the ExCEL Summer Project and summarizes lessons learned about three implementation issues—recruitment, attendance, and family involvement—that affect all summer programs but may pose unique challenges and opportunities for programs for rising kindergartners.”

Domitrovich, C. E., Cortes, R. C., & Greenberg, M. T. (2007). Improving young children’s social and emotional competence: A randomized trial of the preschool “PATHS” curriculum. Journal of Primary Prevention, 28(2), 67–91. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This paper reports the results from a randomized clinical trial evaluating an adaptation of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies curriculum (PATHS) for preschool-age children in Head Start. PATHS is a universal, teacher-taught social-emotional curriculum that is designed to improve children’s social competence and reduce problem behavior. Twenty classrooms in two Pennsylvania communities participated in the study. Teachers in the 10 intervention classrooms implemented weekly lessons and extension activities across a 9-month period. Child assessments and teacher and parent reports of child behavior assessments were collected at the beginning and end of the school year. Analysis of covariance was used to control for baseline differences between the groups and pretest scores on each of the outcome measures. The results suggest that after exposure to PATHS, intervention children had higher emotion knowledge skills and were rated by parents and teachers as more socially competent compared to peers. Further, teachers rated intervention children as less socially withdrawn at the end of the school year compared to controls.”

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.

Goldstein, J., Eastwood, M., & Behuniak, P. (2014). Can teacher ratings of students’ skills at kindergarten entry predict kindergarten retention? Journal of Educational Research, 107(3), 217–229. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Though early childhood literature defines kindergarten readiness in the context of the whole child across multiple domains, there is little research to demonstrate the relative influence of these domains on success in the kindergarten year. In this study, we use teacher judgments of students at the start of the kindergarten year across multiple domains as predictors of retention in kindergarten the following year. The analyses demonstrated that low ratings of students’ skills are predictive of retention, particularly for young males eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Further, the analyses showed that of the set of domains, low ratings of literacy and numeracy skills are most closely associated with increased likelihood of retention.”

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.

Goldstein, J., McCoach, D. B., & Yu, H. (2017). The predictive validity of kindergarten readiness judgments: Lessons from one state. Journal of Educational Research, 110(1), 50–60. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Recent federal investments in early childhood assessment systems are the result of a national need for developmentally appropriate, psychometrically sound instruments to monitor young children and evaluate the effectiveness of their learning programs. In this paper, we examined the association between teachers’ perceptions of their students at the start of kindergarten and academic achievement in Grade 3 with hierarchical linear modeling using state-level data from nearly 30,000 students. The analyses showed that such an association exists even after accounting for student-level and school-level demographic variables and is moderated by the percentage of free-lunch-eligible students in a given school. Implications of these findings related screening and assessment at kindergarten entry are 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.

Hartman, S., Winsler, A., & Manfra, L. (2017). Behavior concerns among low-income, ethnically and linguistically diverse children in child care: Importance for school readiness and kindergarten achievement. Early Education and Development, 28(3), 255–273. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Research Findings: Recent research and teacher reports have highlighted the importance of early behavior skills for children’s school readiness and academic success in elementary school. Significant gaps in school readiness and achievement exist between children in poverty and those more affluent. Low-income children are also more likely to exhibit behavior concerns than their more financially advantaged peers. The current study examined the importance of behavior skills at age 4 for school readiness and academic achievement in kindergarten among an ethnically diverse sample of 1,618 low-income children (63% Latino, 37% Black) in an urban setting. Children’s early behavior concerns at age 4 were significantly associated with children's school readiness scores and end-of-year kindergarten grades above and beyond the contributions of family and child demographics and children’s early cognitive and language skills. In addition, behavior problems were more strongly related to school readiness and kindergarten performance within English-dominant Latino children as opposed to Spanish-dominant Latino children. Practice or Policy: The findings from the current study provide support for targeting behavior skills, and not just preliteracy and/or number skills, prior to school entry as a strategy to increase the likelihood of low-income diverse children’s school readiness and school success. Behavior interventions are 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.

Hite, J. (2014). Early learning: Return on investment [Annotated bibliography]. Atlanta, GA: Southern Regional Education Board. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Today’s researchers seek to determine if contemporary pre-K programs provide the strong return on investment found by researchers in the 1960's High/Scope Perry Preschool Program and 1970’s North Carolina Abecedarian Project. Research then showed that these two programs created positive academic effects that accompanied their students as they moved through school. Policy-makers now look to current research for guidance in making informed decisions. New evidence from large-scale early learning programs in Chicago, New Jersey and Texas, as well as from federally funded Head Start, is positive. The findings in these studies identify specific elements in these pre-K programs that are the most beneficial. Evidence from state programs in Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia is also instructive. The resources presented in this annotated bibliography provide a sampling of research on policy topics with nationwide applicability. The resources are organized into the following topics: (1) Cost-benefit and effect size analyses of pre-K programs; (2) Catch up vs. fade out: Do pre-K’s positive effects persist through K-12?; and (3) Evaluations of pre-K programs in SREB states.”

National Conference of State Legislatures. (2014). NCSL technical report: State approaches to school readiness assessment: 2014 update. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Academic achievement is a cornerstone of independence, productivity and active citizenship. Children who enter kindergarten ready to meet its academic, social and emotional demands are more likely to achieve later academic and life success. Likewise, children who enter school behind their peers in these areas tend to remain academically behind and at risk for harmful behavior in adulthood (e.g., dropping out of school, criminal behavior, unemployment). Evidence suggests that more than half the achievement gap found in later school years already is present at kindergarten entry. This is an update to NCSL’s 2010 Technical Report: State approaches to school readiness assessment. Since 2010, at least 14 states have passed new legislation to establish or amend school readiness assessments of young children. Currently, at least 34 states and the District of Columbia have some form of school readiness assessment statute or regulation. Typically, states assess children at the beginning of the kindergarten year through use of a state-approved assessment.”

Pears, K. C., Healey, C. V., Fisher, P. A., Braun, D., Gill, C., Conte, H. M., … & Ticer, S. (2014). Immediate effects of a program to promote school readiness in low-income children: Results of a pilot study. Education & Treatment of Children, 37(3), 431–460. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Children from low-income backgrounds demonstrate poorer school readiness skills than their higher-income peers. The Kids In Transition to School (KITS) Program was developed to increase early literacy, social, and self-regulatory skills among children with inadequate school readiness. In the present study, 39 families participated in a pilot efficacy trial conducted through a community collaboration to examine the feasibility and impact of the KITS program with families from disadvantaged neighborhoods. Participating families were demographically representative of the larger populations in the participating school districts. Children who received the intervention demonstrated significantly greater improvements in letter naming, initial sound fluency, and understanding of concepts about print than their peers who did not participate in the intervention as well as decreases in aggressive responses to peer provocation and increases in self-regulation skills. Results suggest that a brief, focused school readiness intervention is feasible to conduct with low-income families and may improve critical skills.”

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.

Reardon, S. F., & Portilla, X. A. (2016). Recent trends in income, racial, and ethnic school readiness gaps at kindergarten entry. AERA Open, 2(3), 1–18. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Academic achievement gaps between high- and low-income students born in the 1990s were much larger than between cohorts born two decades earlier. Racial/ethnic achievement gaps declined during the same period. To determine whether these two trends have continued in more recent cohorts, we examine trends in several dimensions of school readiness, including academic achievement, self-control, externalizing behavior, and a measure of students’ approaches to learning, for cohorts born from the early 1990s to the 2000–2010 midperiod. We use data from nationally representative samples of kindergarteners (ages 5–6) in 1998 (n = 20,220), 2006 (n = 6,600), and 2010 (n = 16,980) to estimate trends in racial/ethnic and income school readiness gaps. We find that readiness gaps narrowed modestly from 1998 to 2010, particularly between high- and low-income students and between White and Hispanic students.”

Scott-Little, C., Kagan, S. L., & Clifford, R. M. (2003). Assessing the state of state assessments: Perspectives on assessing young children. Greensboro, NC: SERVE. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A number of preschool and kindergarten assessment systems are being put into place across the nation, with a variety of purposes and collection methods. The ‘Assessing the State of State Assessments’ symposium was convened to provide an opportunity for persons working most closely with state assessment systems to identify common challenges and share ideas. This special report presents a compilation of perspectives on assessment issues discussed at the symposium. Chapter 1, ‘Assessing Young Children: What Policymakers Need To Know and Do’ (Sharon Lynn Kagan, Catherine Scott-Little, and Richard M. Clifford), reviews basic principles that should guide early childhood assessment policies and outlines critical policy issues related to assessment systems. Chapter 2, ‘A Risk Management Approach to Readiness Assessment: Lessons from Florida’ (Susan Muenchow), defines several readiness assessment terms and presents four potential benefits of readiness assessment systems. Chapter 3, ‘Assessing School Readiness: System Design Framework and Issues’ (Gary T. Henry), argues that a key design element of an assessment system is discerning the purpose for which the assessments are being conducted, and presents important issues that should be taken into consideration when making assessment design decisions. Chapter 4, ‘Issues in Implementing a State Preschool Program Evaluation in Michigan’ (Lawrence J. Schweinhart), addresses a variety of design and implementation issues encountered by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation's evaluation of the Michigan School Readiness Program. The final chapter, ‘Instrumentation for State Readiness Assessment: Issues in Measuring Children's Early Development and Learning’ (John M. Love), examines technical issues related to assessment, providing a system-level review of the elements of readiness, along with current political and education factors that affect readiness assessment systems. The chapter includes criteria for evaluating both an individual measure as well as a set of measures used in an assessment system. Two attachments include ‘Readiness’ dimensions identified by the Goal One Technical Planning Group of the National Educational Goals Panel, and discussion of how Head Start Performance Measures are aligned with the Goal One Dimensions. The document concludes with an essay on the challenges and next steps of statewide school readiness assessments.”

Snow, K. L. (2006). Measuring school readiness: Conceptual and practical considerations. Early Education and Development, 17(1), 7–41. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Recent interest and investment in early childhood education as a means of promoting children’s school readiness has prompted the need for clear definitions of school readiness. Traditionally school readiness has been viewed within a maturationist frame, based on a chronological set-point, which led to the emergence of readiness testing. Following a brief review of this literature, this article provides an overview of the conceptual and practical considerations that must be given to such a definition. Among conceptual concerns are the lack of agreement about the key components of school readiness and theoretical models to connect them. Also of concern is the need to consider multiple purposes of assessment, and the appropriate use of assessments. Practical considerations include the need to incorporate multiple stakeholders’ views in a definition, the availability of adequate measurement tools and how resultant data can be used. The article closes with a discussion of possible future directions by laying out a series of assumptions about the nature of school readiness.”

Webster-Stratton, C., Reid, M. J., & Stoolmiller, M. (2008). Preventing conduct problems and improving school readiness: Evaluation of the incredible years teacher and child training programs in high-risk schools. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49(5), 471–488. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Background: School readiness, conceptualized as three components including emotional self-regulation, social competence, and family/school involvement, as well as absence of conduct problems play a key role in young children’s future interpersonal adjustment and academic success. Unfortunately, exposure to multiple poverty-related risks increases the odds that children will demonstrate increased emotional dysregulation, fewer social skills, less teacher/parent involvement and more conduct problems. Consequently intervention offered to socio-economically disadvantaged populations that includes a social and emotional school curriculum and trains teachers in effective classroom management skills and in promotion of parent-school involvement would seem to be a strategic strategy for improving young children’s school readiness, leading to later academic success and prevention of the development of conduct disorders. Methods: This randomized trial evaluated the Incredible Years (IY) Teacher Classroom Management and Child Social and Emotion curriculum (Dinosaur School) as a universal prevention program for children enrolled in Head Start, kindergarten, or first grade classrooms in schools selected because of high rates of poverty. Trained teachers offered the Dinosaur School curriculum to all their students in bi-weekly lessons throughout the year. They sent home weekly dinosaur homework to encourage parents’ involvement. Part of the curriculum involved promotion of lesson objectives through the teachers’ continual use of positive classroom management skills focused on building social competence and emotional self-regulation skills as well as decreasing conduct problems. Matched pairs of schools were randomly assigned to intervention or control conditions. Results: Results from multi-level models on a total of 153 teachers and 1,768 students are presented. Children and teachers were observed in the classrooms by blinded observers at the beginning and the end of the school year. Results indicated that intervention teachers used more positive classroom management strategies and their students showed more social competence and emotional self-regulation and fewer conduct problems than control teachers and students. Intervention teachers reported more involvement with parents than control teachers. Satisfaction with the program was very high regardless of grade levels. Conclusions: These findings provide support for the efficacy of this universal preventive curriculum for enhancing school protective factors and reducing child and classroom risk factors faced by socio-economically disadvantaged children.”

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.


Keywords and Search Strings

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

  • Kindergarten readiness

  • School readiness intervention

  • competency-based learning equity

  • “early childhood intervention program” “school readiness”

  • “school readiness” intervention at-risk

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 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include 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 Region) 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.