Building an Effective PK-3 Education System: Actionable Aspects of Policies, Programs, Schools, and Classroom Processes that Promote Children's Learning in the Nation's 11th Largest School District
Co-Principal Investigators: Virginia Vitiello, Jessica Whittaker, Eric Ruzek (University of Virginia)
Related Network Teams: Early Learning Network Lead (PI: Susan Sheridan, R305N160015); Optimizing Learning Opportunities for Students' (OLOS) Early Learning Observation System (PI: Carol Connor, R305N160013-Assessment Team); Early Learning Contexts in Rural and Urban Nebraska (PI: Susan Sheridan, R305N160016); Boston P-3: Identifying Malleable Factors for Promoting Student Success (PI: JoAnn Hsueh, R305N160018); Early Education in Rural North Carolina (PI: Margaret Burchinal, R305N160022); Early Learning Network: Critical Contributions of Classroom Ecology to Children's Learning (PI: Laura Justice, R305N160024)
Description: A Research Network involves several teams of researchers who are working together to address a critical education problem or issue. The objective is to build new knowledge, encourage information sharing, and assist policymakers and practitioners to strengthen education policies and programs and improve student education outcomes. Members of the Early Learning Network will identify malleable factors that support early learning from preschool through early elementary school grades. They will also develop a classroom observation tool that practitioners can use to assess aspects of classroom quality that are associated with positive academic and social-behavioral outcomes in preschool and early elementary school. The Network includes five Research Teams, an Assessment team, and a Network Lead.
Purpose: This research team will examine associations between district policy, classroom processes, and early learning trajectories of low-income children during preschool and the early elementary school grades in Northern Virginia. Specifically, the researchers will examine policies, governance structures, and procedures at the federal, state, and local levels; identify patterns of educational resources in classrooms (i.e., teacher-child interactions, developmentally aligned content, and time exposed to content) that children are exposed to across pre-k to third grade; and examine the extent to which enrollment in pre-k and participation in pre-k to third grade educational experiences are associated with gains in learning for low-income children.
Project Activities: The research team will conduct three interconnected, exploratory studies. In Study 1, the researchers will conduct a descriptive analysis of systems-level policies and practices that support learning and school achievement. In Study 2, the researchers will conduct a classroom observation study to identify malleable factors that are associated with children's school readiness skills and school achievement. In Study 3, the researchers will identify malleable factors associated with early learning and school achievement by following a group of children longitudinally from pre-k through third grade. The research team will also work with the Assessment Team to develop a new classroom observation tool that will be used to assess structural and process features of pre-k and kindergarten to third grade classrooms.
Products: The research team will work to produce study findings and databases to inform future policy and practice in early childhood programs and early elementary school classrooms. The researchers will disseminate the study findings in print and electronic formats, including collaborative websites and in-person presentations to a wide range of audiences.
Setting: This project will take place in Fairfax County Public Schools, a large school district in Northern Virginia.
Sample: For Study 1, the sample will include prekindergarten center and elementary school administrators, prekindergarten and K–3 teachers and parents. For Studies 2 and 3, the study sample will include two groups of children, a Sampling Study group and a Population Study group. For the Sampling Study, the study sample will include more than 2,000 children enrolled in public school and community-based public pre-k classrooms. At kindergarten entry, a random sample of 1,100 preschool attendees will be selected from the sample of pre-kindergarteners and an equivalent number of children who did not attend preschool will be recruited to participate in the study. For the Population Study, the entire cohort of children who enter kindergarten in Fairfax County Public Schools (approximately 13,000 students during the 2016-2017 school year) will be included in the study and followed through the early elementary grades (K–3).
Intervention: The study is examining existing policies and programs. No intervention is being introduced for the project.
Research Design and Methods: For Study 1 (descriptive study of systems-level policies and practices), the researchers will conduct interviews and focus groups with center and school administrators, and with parents in years 1 and 2. They will also conduct document analysis and observations. For Study 2 (classroom observation study), the researchers will conduct observations of teacher-child interactions and class time and content instruction in pre-k and K–3 classrooms. Teachers will complete two surveys to report on school and classroom practices. Center and school administrators and parents will complete surveys to report on school climate, specific transition practices for students and families and supports for dual language learners.
For Study 3 (longitudinal study), the researchers will follow two overlapping cohorts of children. One cohort will include a random subsample of children who either experienced public pre-k or were eligible for public pre-k but were not enrolled in any center-based pre-k program in the year before kindergarten entry (part of the Sampling Study). The second cohort will include the entire population of children who enroll in kindergarten in the 2016–2017 (Population Study). For the Sampling Study, the researchers will study all children who are enrolled in school-based or community-based pre-k classrooms in year 1 of the study. At kindergarten entry (year 2), the researchers will select a subsample of preschool attenders and recruit non-attenders and follow both groups of children to third grade. The research team will conduct direct assessments of children and classroom observations and will collect teacher- and parent-level data. For the Population Study, the researchers will obtain student-level data from the school district.
Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.
Key Measures: Observational measures will include the Classroom Assessment Scoring System Pre-K and K–3 (CLASS Pre-k and CLASS K–3) and the Classroom Snapshot. Other measures will include the Five Essentials Survey (pre-k and K–12 versions) and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten (ECLS-K) teacher report of content and coverage. Direct assessments of child outcomes will include the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (4th edition), the Test de Vocabulario en Imagenes Peabody, the Picture Vocabulary, Letter-Word Identification, and Applied Problems subscales of the Woodcock-Johnson-IV or the Spanish equivalents of the Bateria Woodcock-Munoz, and the Backwards Digit Span. Teacher report measures include a questionnaire about teachers' background and ongoing professional development and the Social Skills Improvement System. School district collected data will include the WIDA Access Placement Test (kindergarten) and WIDA Access (K–3), measures of English language proficiency in the areas of listening, reading, writing, and speaking; the Virginia Standards of Learning tests (third grade); and other school records information (e.g., grade retention).
Data Analytic Strategy: For Study 1, the researchers will use qualitative methods to analyze documents, interview data, focus group summaries, and observations. For Study 2, the research team will conduct quantitative analyses to examine associations between the classroom processes, school- and classroom-level characteristics and children's academic and social behavioral skills. For Study 3, researchers will use multilevel mixed-effects models to account for the nesting of children within classroom and classrooms within schools. They will examine associations between pre-k participation and children's school readiness skills at kindergarten entry. They will also examine learning trajectories of achievement and social behavioral outcomes in grades K–3, grade 3 scores on the state Standards of Learning test, and other relevant K–3 outcomes (e.g., grade retention, special education placement). Finally, the research team will examine moderators such as family demographic factors, child characteristics and school readiness skills, and classroom experiences.