How is an Academically Oriented Kindergarten Classroom Related to Children's Outcomes?

How is an Academically Oriented Kindergarten Classroom Related to Children's Outcomes?

Against a backdrop of school accountability policies in which standards, assessments, and high-stakes consequences attached to test scores have elevated the importance of academic preparation and performance, the kindergarten classroom has become increasingly focused on academics. This growing emphasis at kindergarten has fostered concern that a heightened focus on academics is stressful for children and may negatively impact their social/emotional outcomes. Despite numerous publications issued by child advocacy groups regarding concerns that the move toward an academic kindergarten classroom undermines the development of the child as a whole, evidence at this stage is primarily anecdotal. The purpose of this study was to analyze a nationally-representative dataset to empirically explore the relationship between teaching of advanced content and children’s social/emotional outcomes, as rated by their teachers.

With funding from the National Institute of Health, NORC examined data from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of Kindergarteners in 2010 (ECLS-K: 2011) to address two research questions:

  1. What is the relationship between exposure to advanced content at kindergarten and subsequent children’s achievement and social/emotional outcomes?
  2. Do these relationships vary for children who enter kindergarten with low versus high academic skills? Are the patterns of relationships different for children who enter kindergarten with poor versus superior social/emotional scores?

Researchers developed regression models based on school fixed-effects to examine relationships between advanced academic content and children’s academic and social/emotional outcomes. Within the study, advanced academic content has been defined as academic skills typically taught at a higher grade.

Key findings included:

  • Advanced academic content was associated with higher math and English/language arts achievement. Exposure to advanced math content was associated with higher math test performance, even for children who started kindergarten with low academic or social/emotional skills.
  • Exposure to advanced content in English was unrelated to social/emotional skills, while exposure to advanced content in math was positively related to approaches to learning, attentional focus, and interpersonal skills, and negatively related to externalizing behaviors.
  • Significant associations between advanced content in math and social/emotional skills were more prevalent among children who started kindergarten with low readiness skills than among children who started kindergarten with high readiness skills.

These findings suggest that advanced academic content can be taught without compromising children’s social/emotional skills.

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