Paper Summary

Direct link:

Optimizing Content: Evidence on the Importance of Kindergarten and First-Grade Content Coverage for Improving Student Outcomes

Sun, April 6, 2:15 to 3:45pm, Convention Center, Floor: 100 Level, 118B


Objective and Purpose:
Evidence from multiple disciplines points to the importance of children’s early skills and knowledge for their later success in school. Race and income gaps in academic achievement appear as early as school entry in both mathematics and reading achievement (e.g. Bodovski & Farkas, 2007a; Fryer & Levitt, 2004; Magnuson & Duncan, 2006; Magnuson et al., 2007; Phillips et al., 1998), and these achievement gaps persist and often widen as students progress in school (Aunola et al., 2004; Cockcroft, 1982; Duncan & Magnuson, 2006; Morgan et al. 2009; Fryer & Levitt, 2006).
The current study examines the effect of content coverage in mathematics across kindergarten and first grade as a means for improving student outcomes in the earliest years of school. Specifically, this study seeks to answer the following research questions:
1) How much time does kindergarten and first grade teachers report focusing on basic versus advanced content in mathematics?
2) On average, how is student learning in kindergarten and first grade affected by the amount of basic and advanced content in mathematics that they are exposed to?
3) Does the effect of exposure to basic or advanced content vary by students’ knowledge and skills at kindergarten entry?

Background and Theoretical Framework:
Classroom content coverage and curricula are important for children’s skill development (Gaurino, et al., 2006; Hamre & Pianta, 2005). Relatedly, theory on mathematics learning trajectories for young children posits that the mathematics children already know should be key to determining the content that they are taught (Clements & Sarama, 2009; Sarama & Clements, 2009). In line with this theory, a recent study using the ECLS-K shows that in mathematics, children gain more when exposed to content that they had not yet mastered at kindergarten entry (Engel, Claessens & Finch, 2013).

We utilize OLS regression models and school fixed effects models that predict spring of K and 1st grade mathematic achievement. The independent variables of interest are the amount of time spent on basic and advanced mathematics content in K and 1st grade. A robust set of student and family background characteristics are included as controls in the models.

The data used in this study come from the ECLS-K, a longitudinal, nationally representative sample of children who were in kindergarten in 1998-99 and were followed through eighth grade.

Results suggest that kindergarten and first grade students benefit from exposure to more advanced mathematics content (0.04 to 0.08 standard deviations). Kindergarten students appear to be negatively influenced by increased exposure to basic mathematics content. In contrast, first grade students, while also benefiting most from advanced content exposure, do not demonstrate as a significant negative influence of exposure to basic content.

Our results suggest a misalignment between the content children benefit most from and the content emphasized in kindergarten and first grade. Given that adjustments in content exposure represent a low-cost adjustment to schooling, the results suggest a cost-effective mechanism for increasing student achievement in early elementary school.